(SNR) - The Diocese of Lincoln hired the consulting firm Meitler to conduct a study and propose a five-year strategic plan for the diocesan schools.
The study is intended to develop a long-term approach to ensuring the affordability and Catholic identity of the diocesan schools. Under Bishop James Conley’s leadership, the study will provide demographic and financial information to track and plan for the growth of Catholic schools, particularly as census estimates project growth for the population of Nebraska.
Msgr. John Perkinton, superintendent of schools, said, "Ultimately, our goal is to evangelize, to catechize, and to bring everyone who participates in Catholic school education to Christ."
He continued, "We want to make sure our schools are in good financial shape as we go into the future and to maximize the number of children who receive our Catholic education."
To that end, a consulting company was hired.
"We’re a pretty lean machine," Msgr. Perkinton laughed. "We just don’t have the resources to do a study this comprehensive and this in-depth."
Meitler was chosen above other candidates due to their experience and vast database of information. The two consultants who are working on the Diocese of Lincoln study and plan are Tom J. Heding, president, and Rick Pendergast, senior consultant.
Heding is a veteran educator who served as teacher, principal and superintendent for Catholic schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino (California). He also served as vice-chair of the Western Catholic Educational Association.
Pendergast has more than 30 years of experience in Catholic education as a teacher, administrator and business manger, including serving as principal of Pius XI High School in Milwaukee.
"They know the right kind of questions to ask and how to listen for responses that are relative to our goals," noted Msgr. Perkinton.
"Catholic school education has been our ministry as well as our career," Heding said. "We know what it takes to ensure a school is genuinely Catholic, academically strong and innovative, and providing an excellent educational opportunity for its students."
Msgr. Liam Barr, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Lincoln, serves as chair for the committee that has provided input to the consultants at all stages. He called the study an effort to maintain or improve what is already working well.
"Any time is a good time to look toward the future," Msgr. Barr stressed. "This will give us a plan for our schools to remain very strong in carrying out their mission and to have the financial resources to do it."
Financial health is just one part of what the strategic plan will entail. In the past three weeks, the Meitler consultants visited with pastors, principals and other school and parish leaders from every school in the diocese. The insight from those interviews will be combined with demographics, trends and financial predictions to produce the strategic plan.
Heding reported that he and his team found a high degree of support for Catholic education throughout the diocese, along with a genuine commitment to "ensuring each child comes to know, love and serve God."
He added, "We met wonderful faculty and staff dedicated to the personal success of each child in their school and classroom, many of them for 25, 30 or more years. It is inspiring, to say the least."
The two consultants are focused on what Heding called the "key elements" of a successful school - strong Catholic identity, enrollment potential, academic/co-curricular quality and vitality, and financial viability.
"The world in which our Catholic schools educate students is constantly changing," Heding said. "Each school, no matter what level of quality is being achieved at the present time, must look to the future and its next level of excellence."
He noted that even the most successful schools must diligently strive for increased efficiency and effectiveness in meeting the ever-changing needs of students and families.
"Developing a diocesan-level plan for schools provides an overall vision and direction for improving Catholic school education, and provides a foundation for individual schools to identify their next level of excellence and prepare their own strategic plan," Heding explained.
Msgr. Robert Roh, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Falls City and superintendent of Sacred Heart School, also serves on the committee, bringing in his insight after decades of involvement in Catholic education.
He listed five key benefits to Catholic education: community – "a unique and specified slice of the ekklesia, the church as the New Testament," a top-notch academic climate and education that prepares students for a productive life, a physically and morally safe environment for children, understanding of Catholic doctrine, and vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
"The statistics don’t lie when they show the number of our priests and religious that come from a Catholic school," Msgr. Roh said.
Msgr. Barr expects the strategic plan to be proposed sometime in January. At that point, the committee will assess which recommendations should be implemented.
"We do a great job," Msgr. Perkinton said. "We want to do an even better job."