I’m Thankful!

Sometimes I wish we had a little more control over the changes that take place in our life. It was such a joy to celebrate the birth of our 8th grandchild not long ago, but the rotator cuff surgery and hearing aids that soon followed are also a sign of my times! It just seems like we should get to celebrate what’s right with the aging process without moaning through the downside! But some change is obviously beyond our control.

Last week I returned from Nashville with two others who attended the School TracK of the International Catholic Stewardship Conference. We came away with several changes we will be proposing for our own system. While there are always elements of change we tend to dread (like the pain that comes with growing older), one of our roles is to teach students to embrace their faith and academics because they have such great capacity for influencing change in their own life, and in the life of the communities they will serve.

So here are some thoughts, ideas and conference takeaways:

WEALTH IS RELATIVE: We have all the people and resources we need to be successful beyond our wildest imagination. This is a fact. We will achieve as God provides. We will do everything in our power to develop additional sources of sustainable revenue, but these advancement systems take a laser-like focus of investment and time. And thanks to the support of our Pastors and Parishes, we still have a significant number of families we serve on the low end of the socio-economic ladder. Our Catholic school system is blessed with an abundance of talent, resources and mission.

TEACHERS ARE EDUCATION: I used to say: “Healthcare is about doctors and patients first, everyone else supports the system.” Catholic Education is about teachers and students first. The rest of us are here to support that system. This also means that we must develop more focused strategies on developing an outstanding pipeline of people to join our mission. We also want to do the best we can by retaining our talent. Our best efforts of retention will be our ability to continually provide opportunities of faith, community and fun! There are more challenges with a limited wage scale, but there are many graduates entering the market place who find out they can’t afford to work in some vocations. These are just the economic realities that every family faces when they choose a workplace. Yet, many industries still thrive with below scale wages simply because they create superior working environments. Every single one of us contributes to that superior working environment.

EFFICIENT, EFFICIENT, EFFICIENT: Our families have ample opportunities to receive other forms of education that don’t cost a dime! They CHOOSE to invest in our system because they believe in it. It’s just another reason why we should use every hour of every work day to be the very best in our field. How do we manage our own time? How do we push students harder without leaving students behind? How do we find times of reflection that change our own behaviors and attitudes for the students who present special challenges to us? How do we develop stronger relationships and earn a deeper respect for the students we serve? I still remember things about every single teacher I had in my lifetime. I knew the ones that liked me. I knew the ones that didn’t! I also remember the ones who liked me enough to teach me.

WE LOVE BEING CATHOLIC: Our ability to teach faith gives us the BEST opportunity to help students find meaningful relevance in their own lives. Faith is where they learn to laugh; treat others well; communicate; pray; trust and deal with all the catastrophic events they will face in a lifetime. We embrace all the mysteries of faith and life! Sometimes we use words, other times we can provide all these teachings in the way we conduct ourselves in front of them. Nobody does that perfectly, but then we can also teach them to forgive by our own example of asking for forgiveness.

These are the abstract concepts that will lead to some concrete changes in our organization. We should spend more time celebrating the richness of our vocation. We must intensely focus on what’s going on in the classroom every single day. We must provide the most economical and efficient use of the system. We need to love being part of this community. It’s not perfect. So we should also use our conscience to constructively criticize and make suggestions. This is as true for me as it is for you. So, feel free to use your influence and access to hold me personally accountable and to help us grow.

WHAT ARE SOME CONCRETE DISCUSSIONS? K-12 Facility and Custodial Scheduling Management; Cash Management/Investment policies; Centralized finance/bookkeeping; K-12 technology planning; K-12 Athletic strategies; Simplify Accounts Receivables; Registration Process Reviews; Focused marketing/recruitment strategies; Curriculum reviews; Focused Advancement/Development (eliminate some commerce-based fundraising); and the list goes on. There are constraints. We’re implementing changes that we project will be expense neutral with increased revenues. They are not easy or simple goals.

CONCLUSION: Change is full of challenges and opportunities. We’re only trying to change the things that will improve the condition of every area of our organization. Improvements in some areas don’t have to come at the expense of any other area. We must value the feedback and input from all the constituencies involved in the process. It doesn’t matter what role you have in this organization, I value your opinion. I need your criticism and your suggested solutions. It’s the same message I’m giving our parents, our supporting parishes and the Education Council that serves us. I don’t always know what to do with the volume of information I receive, but opinions are important. I love that teachers are passionate about vision and direction. I love that parents still feel so passionately about their children’s education and about their Catholic Schools. But it’s that synergy of passion and opinion that drives a lot of the changes we will experience in the coming years. And the one area that I know we are all in total agreement about, is that we will consistently pray for each other and God’s blessings on the outcomes. I really do appreciate your service and your commitment to these children. It is a blessing to me and my family to be part of you and this important mission.

ON THE BORING BUSINESS SIDE: We’re trying to plan. If you know of changes taking place in your life (babies, retirements, activities that take you away from work, etc.), please, please let somebody know as soon as you can. Employees as good as you are hard to find. But from time to time we do get some outstanding applicants we turn away because we don’t have a position at the time…only to find out months later that someone has known for months that change was coming. We will keep your wishes confidential. You won’t be penalized for being honest!

SOCIAL MEDIA: We have had several instances where our teachers have been unfairly criticized on social media. This is unfortunate. It’s amazing how hard that some will search for affirmation and security by using social media as a platform to misrepresent what’s happened in your classroom. We do have some recourse with parents if this is happening to you, but please let someone know. Most criticisms are gone within a day (and 50 likes), but we still don’t want to see our employees digitally bullied. BUT ON THE SAME NOTE: Do NOT take on highly sensitive areas of church teaching on social media accounts. They do NOT provide the forum for complicated answers to controversial questions. Social media is quick and easy. This forum does not provide a good opportunity for answering complicated issues of theology and life.

INVITE ME: I haven’t been able to meet every classroom request, but only because of scheduling conflicts. I enjoy the opportunities I get to spend 30-40 minutes with students each week. It makes me work harder. I can weave a topic into any classroom setting. Just give me some notice!

Thanks.
–Tom