There are challenges and perceptions in the Catholic School System that create a lot of passionate discussion. It only took a few days in office to clearly identify a few. Let’s see: financial assistance; dual credits; differential instruction; strong faith formation; communication; system transparency; discipline, dress codes; employee morale; fundraisers; community engagement; parish support; leadership succession; lack of parental commitment; cafeteria management; aging buildings; unity; that’s enough to get a good conversation started! And this is before the sports season starts and we can add losing teams and their coaches to the mix! The good news is that we’re still passionate about our children’s education, and we still want our schools to be on the cutting edge of academic and spiritual development.
First, I digress. It was an evening of Déjà vu on June 27th. Thirty years ago, Charlie and Linda Kamuf threw a welcome reception for my family when I was named the high school’s first development director. Now, thirty years later, Charlie and Linda graciously hosted another reception to welcome me back in a different role. Things have changed a little…OK…things have changed a LOT! First, everyone is much more chronologically advantaged! Some of the attendees at this reception were in the first grade or seniors in high school back in 1988, so it was a wonderful multi-generational group who enjoyed an evening of laughter, shared stories, and possibilities for the future of the Owensboro Catholic School System.
My journey started with an appointed search committee. Though my memory is not the best, I can recall high school principal Joe O’Bryan, Otto Hayden, Phil Roberts, Shirley Howard, Buzzy Van Meter, Dee Riney, Tommy Scales, Gene Clemens, Sarah Edge and Charlie representing the school’s various constituencies for the interview process. While some of this original group have passed, I’ve heard from nearly every one of these families responsible for bringing my family to Owensboro. In addition to the high school adding a development office, it was also the first year of grade school consolidation and finance restructuring. Soon after accepting the position came senior retreats, our family’s trip to Florida with the baseball team, coaching freshmen football, the school’s first “real” weight-room and the “new” computer lab sponsored by Premium Allied Tool.
In fact, my very first night in my office at Catholic High, I had my two young daughters with me playing in the office (the oldest starting first grade), so LaNell could unpack boxes at home. Mr. Martin Cecil, another OCHS legend, came through around 9 pm and chain-locked every door on my side of the building and we couldn’t get out! Mr. O’Bryan graciously came down to the school and rescued my family. So it took me a little time just to navigate the building, much less understand the culture and the nature of issues we faced as a system. Fortunately, I still remember how to get around the building. But our culture has dramatically changed in some ways that will take a little more time to understand.
One fact remains the same. You can’t formally replicate what we do as a Catholic School System in any other educational format outside of the home. We provide significant insulation, instruction, and faith formation in a highly competitive academic environment. We continue to provide the communities we serve with parish leadership and respected, integrity filled corporate citizens. There are no perfect people in the system and there are certainly circumstances where our system may not make sense for every family. But test score data is still conclusive. Catholic School educated children are provided outstanding academics within a framework of faith and tradition. That has NOT changed. There are many more tangible benefits to a child’s personal and spiritual development that cannot be measured by test scores or other metrics. Enrollment is strong and we have a growing kindergarten class.
Every community has its challenges. We had them in 1988 and we’ve got them in 2018. Regardless of the time and energy we spend creating solutions, there will always be new challenges and higher mountains to climb. We DO need to address negative data trends and look for creative and successful models of faith and academia. We simply need a committed community who will sacrifice for our children and for the children of others. Those of us formally entrusted with the responsibility of leading the system will play the hand we’ve been dealt to the very best of our faith-filled and professional ability. Employees, parents, pastors, parishioners, board members, volunteers and most importantly, our students will create our own future. There are plenty of resources if families remain committed to a Catholic School Education. As a good friend reminded me years ago with a plaque on his trailer wall that now hangs on my office wall: “Whatever we have is enough… two fish and five loaves, an empty net, a small band of committed people, a donkey’s jawbone…” You get the idea. The Catholic School System has everything we need to achieve powerful outcomes with the children we serve, if we just stay committed as community.
— Tom Lilly