Catholic school leaders meet in Des Moines
By KATIE LEFEBVRE, Globe staff reporter
Catholic school principals, superintendents and other leaders from all four dioceses in Iowa gathered June 22 and 23 at Dowling High School in Des Moines for the Catholic School Leaders for the Future conference.
“This is the first time we have done this,” said Dr. Dan Ryan, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Sioux City. “One of the primary purposes of the conference was to give them quality professional development on topics that would relate to what they are interested in and how they are working. We also wanted to emphasize our Catholic identity and our mission.”
A social was held on June 22 for those who wanted to attend.
June 23 began with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque and concelebrated by the three other bishops of Iowa – Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Bishop Martin Amos of Davenport and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines.
From across the state there were about 150 in attendance for the conference.
“This is the only opportunity we have to bring the Catholic school administrators from Iowa together to meet each other and to network in a more formal way,” said Ryan. “This is important because our schools are facing very similar issues across the state. Someone may have a good solution and this is a great way of finding out and to encourage ongoing communication between the four dioceses.”
He added that there is a more collaborative effort between the dioceses on particular issues ranging from academics and Catholic identity to political issues.
“It helps all of us work more cohesively,” said Ryan.
Catholic school leadership
The keynote speaker was Bishop Blase Cupich, who is bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Wash. and chair of the NCEA Board.
“Bishop Cupich talked about leadership, tying it to Pope Francis and the actions he has taken, helping us understand those and how they relate to our work in the Catholic schools,” said Ryan.
Each participant was able to attend each of the three breakout sessions – Teaching with the Brain in Mind led by Robert R. Bimonte, FSC, president of NCEA; The Catholic School Leader: Teaching Wisdom, Teaching Love facilitated by Mary C. McDonald, Ed.D., former superintendent of the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.; and Leader of Leaders: Shared Leadership for Highly Effective Catholic Schools led by Patrick Lofton, Ed.S., executive vice-president and chief operating officer of NCEA.
“Brother Robert Bimonte talked about some of our academic focuses and our primary drivers in our children’s learning process,” said Ryan. “Mary McDonald gave a very mission driven talk about the vocation of leadership in Catholic schools and how it affected her. It was an inspirational talk.”
Lofton talked about leading trends in successful schools and dioceses, said Ryan.
Closing remarks were offered by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Dr. Brad Buck, director of the Iowa Department of Education; Tom Chapman, executive director of Iowa Catholic Conference; and Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.
Ryan said Gov. Branstad spoke for about 15 to 20 minutes and took questions from the Catholic school leaders. He covered some of the main events during his administration as well as education savings accounts. Dr. Buck discussed the importance of the relationship between the Department of Education and non-public schools and trying to work together.
Chapman and Wilger spoke about some of the ongoing developments in the “political realm” and around school choice, noted Ryan.
He said they also let the administrators know “how important their work has been with the action alerts and getting people involved. It is important for the administrators to hear that.”
Mike Sweeney, principal at Holy Cross School in Sioux City, represented the Diocese of Sioux City on the committee that planned the conference.
The committee included a representative from each diocese and Luvern Gubbels, who is the superintendent of the Des Moines Diocese, was the chair.
“We all worked together on it,” said Sweeney. “We took about a year and a half to plan it – the very first leadership conference for the Catholic school principals in Iowa. We learned as we went through it. When something came up, someone would take care of it.”
He thought the conference went “awesome because we had great speakers, the NCEA president and vice-president were there and all four bishops were there to concelebrate Mass.”
“It was good to start meeting people from other dioceses in Iowa so we can start working together and collaborating further,” said Sweeney. “We all have the common goal of teaching our faith and academic excellence. It was a very neat conference.”
Christy Peterson, 7-12 principal at Bishop Garrigan in Algona, was among the principals who attended from the Diocese of Sioux City.
“I think it was a great opportunity for the Catholic educators across the state of Iowa to collaborate, to see what’s happening in each of our buildings throughout the state, to get ideas and to talk about issues that are unique to Catholic schools,” she said. “I thought the sessions had some great ideas to bring back to the teachers and things to think about. One of the sessions was very motivating to start the school year.”
Peterson said whenever people with common goals are brought together, “you are able to build a stronger foundation and a stronger vision of where Catholic schools have been and where they will go in the future.”
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