Catholic school effort in Philadelphia draws on lay expertise

Philadelphia, Pa., Aug 21, 2012 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The head of an independent Catholic foundation says a new lay management initiative for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will help improve finances and enrollment levels.

“It clearly establishes the role of the laity here to bring significant expertise and capabilities,” said Edward Hanway, chair and acting CEO of the Faith in the Future Foundation.

Hanway explained to CNA on Aug. 20 that the new partnership unites these capabilities with the “outstanding educational product” and promotion of Catholic beliefs and values that is being offered by the schools in the archdiocese.  

On Aug. 21, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced a cooperative management agreement between the archdiocesan office of education and the Faith in the Future Foundation.

Hanway said that the foundation will provide “both strategic and operational management for our 17 high schools and four schools of special education” in the archdiocese.

The Faith in the Future Foundation, an independent 501c3 organization, was created in February after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education in the archdiocese published its report, recommending the closure of numerous schools in the archdiocese, including four local high schools.

However, after an appeals process was completed, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput decided to grant a reprieve to the four high schools, based on a plan to create a new kind of partnership with the broader community.

The Faith in the Future Foundation was established with a commitment “to raising money to support the high schools and also taking on the responsibility to fund the aggregate operating deficit of the high schools,” Hanway said.

He added that the foundation has been working collaboratively with the archdiocese for months to structure an agreement that would formalize their relationship.

Under the new arrangement, the foundation will assume “day-to-day management responsibilities for the schools,” he explained.

The archdiocesan office of education will now report to CEO of the foundation, and its efforts will be complemented by the foundation’s work in areas such as development, marketing and admissions.

This unique arrangement is innovative, he said, because it takes “the legacy and the strength of the Catholic education system here” and combines it with “a commitment of lay talent to more effectively manage those schools, to oversee the financial health and well-being of those schools and to promote them much more effectively.”

Ultimately, he said, the expectation is that the schools will “begin to grow again in enrollment as a result of these activities.”

The foundation is currently taking concrete steps to ease the difficulties experienced by the schools in the areas of finances and enrollment, Hanway said.

He explained that “the strength and the contribution of our schools is well recognized” within the corporate and public community in Philadelphia.

The foundation is working closely to “enhance” the efforts of an organization called Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools, which has worked for years to raise money for local Catholic schools, he said.

In addition, the foundation is encouraging businesses to sign up for the new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which offers tax breaks to companies that donate money to benefit students living in the boundaries of low-performing schools.

Hanway expects this program to provide scholarships for “a significant number of the children who either attend our schools today or who would like to but simply can’t afford it.”

The new initiative in the archdiocese will require the continued “commitment and dedication” of the archdiocesan teachers, educators, parents and students, Hanway noted.

“We need the support of both the private and the public community in fundraising efforts that will assist us in reducing the cost of a Catholic education,” he added.

Success will also require the “increasing support of lay people who believe in our Catholic education system” and are willing to contribute their talents and resources, he said.

Hanway observed that many people stepped forward in the months after the Blue Ribbon Commission’s report on the archdiocesan schools was released.

“We need that to continue,” he said.

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