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University to Host Catholic Education Conference

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By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff
Published: Sept. 23, 2010
In need of new models to improve and preserve Catholic education in America, Boston College and Fordham University and will bring together university leaders, educators and professionals from the field of K-12 Catholic schools Sept. 26-28 to explore ways Catholic educators at all levels can collaborate and leverage resources for school improvement.

A centerpiece of the three-day event will be a discussion with BC President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Fordham President Joseph McShane, SJ, about creating and sustaining successful school-university partnerships focused on the Catholic intellectual tradition.

School of Theology and Ministry Dean Mark S. Massa, SJ, will deliver the keynote remarks in a talk about the culture of Catholic education and expectations for academic excellence in all institutions of Catholic education from higher education to K-12. Lynch School of Education Dean Joseph M. O’Keefe, SJ, Fordham Graduate School of Education Dean James J. Hennessy and Gerald M. Cattaro, director of the Center for Catholic Leadership and Faith-Based Education, will also participate in the conference.

Issues of declining enrollment, school closings, increasing expenses, and the need for continuous improvement have to be confronted in a coordinated manner, say administrators from BC’s Barbara and Patrick Roche Center for Catholic Education and Fordham’s Center for Catholic Leadership and Faith-Based Education, co-sponsors of the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative conference.

Catholic schools (K-12) and Catholic colleges and universities recognize they have to work more collaboratively to build new models for effective governance, financial management, and sustained professional development to support a culture of academic excellence rooted in gospel values, said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, executive director of the Roche Center. These issues and many others were cited in a preliminary survey of participants in the upcoming conference.

“This is a critical time for Catholic schools throughout the country,” said Weitzel-O’Neill, who joined the center in July after eight years as superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. “A time that calls the larger community of Catholics to recognize, support and work for the building of new models for Catholic schools. Only recently have institutions of Catholic higher education begun to work on this challenge. This conference is a major step forward and signals a fresh start for new and exciting partnerships.”

Weitzel-O’Neill said there are two primary goals for this year’s meeting, which will result in action plans that will be carried out during the course of the next year. Participants must answer the central question: “How can Catholic higher education collaborate to assist in developing and sustaining academic excellence in Catholic schools?” Following up on these answers, participants must determine what the next steps will be for institutions of higher education to collaborate with each other and with schools and dioceses and what innovative initiatives, partnerships or research need to be undertaken.

“This conference is a working conference, where the speakers raise the challenging questions and the participants work to create real and practical solutions, knowing they will continue the work throughout the year,” she said. “It is a very innovative and exciting collegial model for change."