Diocesan News

How the Joy of the Gospel’s ‘Francis Fund’ is helping diocesan schools

Story by Reagan Scott

(SNR) - The Joy of the Gospel’s “Francis Fund” is helping five parish schools in the Diocese of Lincoln that have had a history of facing operating deficits achieve financial stability by employing strategic planning, good stewardship and student recruitment, to build a more solid financial support network.

Throughout the next few years, the schools will all work on solutions to build financial security and become independent of the fund.

The five schools that have worked the past two and a half years to create and begin implementing their strategic plans are Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart, St. Mary and St. Patrick in Lincoln and St. John the Baptist in Plattsmouth.

Related story: Task force formed to help struggling diocesan schools

According to Tracy Lockwood, diocesan chief financial officer, grants of approximately $925,000 were issued for the 2017-2018 school year, providing the full cost of a Catholic education to 200 students.

After working with consultant Eva Fujan, interviewing parishioners, parents and other stakeholders in their school communities, each parish was able to identify a unique set of pillars, each with its own plan. 

St. Patrick School in Lincoln chose to target five areas which they titled Disciples in Christ, Holistic Education, Welcoming Culture, Telling Our Story and Community and Resources.

“Our pillars are based on what we saw as needs and the five areas that we wanted to focus on,” Principal Leah Bethune said.

Already, St. Patrick School, which marked the 100th anniversary of its founding last year, has worked to expand their extra-curricular activities by creating new clubs as part of their holistic pillar. The school has also been bringing in community members to share their faith journeys with the students.

As part of their Telling Our Story pillar, the school has improved its website and has created a newsletter to keep the school’s stakeholders more informed.

“We want to have constant communication in sharing what we’re doing every day,” Bethune said. “We want to make sure that we are constantly inviting people to be a part of our school community.”

As the school nears completion of their goals, Bethune said she knows that at the end of the process, St. Patrick will continue to provide students with a quality education, just like they always have.

“We want to make sure we are providing our students with the best possible Catholic education that we can. We are giving them an opportunity to come to school and receive a Catholic education in a neighborhood where they live,” she said.

At St. Mary, the school has been working on their pillars of Academic Excellence, Communications and Community, Mission and Catholic Identity and Financial Future.

The school implemented a program known as EC3, which allows them to partner with doctoral and master’s students from the engineering college at UNL to mentor children in junior high and tutor them in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M.).

Some mentors have even met with students and their parents on Saturdays to cover material. Since the program began, two former St. Mary students have received Regent’s Scholarships to the University of Nebraska, an award that covers the cost of tuition.

“That is how we know the program is working,” Dr. Nina Beck, principal at St. Mary said.

According to Dr. Beck, the mentors have also benefitted from the program, as all of them have either completed or are continuing their course of study in a field that is often trying to increase its retention rate due to the difficulty.

In addition to the help they receive from UNL students, the school is also visited by students from Union College who help students where needed, as well as mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters and Teammates.

It’s not only other students who are involved in the school, but parents as well. St. Mary has high volunteerism and 98-percent parent involvement, something Dr. Beck is very proud of.

In September, United States Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited the school and according to Dr. Beck, was so impressed by what she saw that she invited Dr. Beck to apply for a grant. DeVos’s visit also gave Dr. Beck the chance to showcase the school’s diverse student body, which has many different countries and 12 languages represented.

“We’ve done everything on our list with the exception of two things,” Dr. Beck said. “In five years, I hope that we continue to get children from all over the world who speak different languages and that we continue to work with the university.”

Serving families with love, ingenuity
By S.L. Hansen

(SNR) - Five diocesan schools were cited by a 2014 Meitler study as needing more financial support, and are recipients of the Joy of the Gospel’s “Francis Fund.”

The schools have been serving Catholic schoolchildren and their families for decades. Since the strategic planning initiative started in 2015, the schools have evaluated their strengths and weaknesses and redoubled their efforts to serve parish families with Christian love, dedication and innovative ideas.

Blessed Sacrament, Lincoln | Principal Danielle Miller
“Blessed Sacrament School is unique to the city of Lincoln because of its small, family educational environment,” said Principal Danielle Miller, citing research indicating many positive aspects of smaller schools.

As part of the school’s strategic plan, the school has implemented a stewardship model for tuition. Father John Sullivan, superintendent, and the school finance council met individually with each family to inform them about the true cost of education and each family’s vital role in the school’s financial stability. Tuition is paid electronically, which has greatly improved accounts receivable, and families contribute 15 hours of service to the school.

Sacred Heart, Lincoln | Principal Laura Knaus
Principal Laura Knaus noted Sacred Heart School’s ongoing transition to a classical curriculum.

“We teach our students the art of learning while forming our students to live as disciples of Jesus Christ,” she said. Teaching methods guide student discovery and encourage curiosity. Students memorize Scripture and poetry, take art history, experience the performing arts, etc. All grades, including preschool, have Latin class.

To increase financial stability, Sacred Heart School is focusing attention on their endowment. The school acquired a $50,000 matching grant and has raised more than 80% of that amount so far. Other grant applications are in progress.

St. John the Baptist, Plattsmouth | Principal Linda Monahan
Not only does St. John the Baptist School offer a ideal student-teacher ratio that allows for personal attention, Principal Linda Monahan said the school has, “many tenured staff who promote and live the Catholic Faith and instill this in our students.” The school also serves families by providing full-day preschool, childcare, and a variety of after-school clubs.

After gathering feedback from parents, staff and parishioners, Saint John the Baptist School implemented an incremental tuition increase and started a stewardship program for all families. A tuition assistance fund was created for families who meet the criteria for financial help.

St. Mary School, Lincoln | Principal Nina Beck, Ph.D.
St. Mary School offers Ec3, a tutoring partnership with the University of Nebraska Engineering program that has led to “absolutely incredible” math skills among the students. The program caught the attention of federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss, who visited the school recently.  Dr. Beck also cited the multicultural student body. “We have 12 languages,” she said.

In addition to promoting Ec3 and the multicultural school community, St. Mary School has received several grants that have resulted in a $35,000 gym renovation and new kitchen equipment. Another grant in the works will support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

St. Patrick School, Lincoln | Principal Leah Bethune
“The teachers and staff of the school work hand in hand with our parents and community to create a Christ-centered learning environment where all students can be successful,” said Principal Leah Bethune. To foster a family atmosphere, students actively serve the parish in many different ways, and parishioners are invited to all school events.

Tuition has been gradually increasing, and grants have been acquired to help offset operational costs. A recent SPARK grant provided $3,000 worth of P.E. equipment and training. Parishioners also give their time, talent and treasure to the school through donations, maintenance work and tutoring.

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