Q and A: Catholic schools in archdiocese flourishing

By Elizabeth Lowe

Twitter: @ReviewLowe
With the 2013-14 school year underway, Dr. Barbara McGraw Edmondson, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, spoke to the Catholic Review about a variety of topics related to Catholic education.
The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What is the state of Catholic schools in the archdiocese?
A: Programs are growing, the curriculum is being strengthened, teachers are getting the professional development support they need. Things are really moving quickly within our schools and we continue to work hand-in-hand with our schools. The state of schools – it’s a real positive. 
Q: Why should parents enroll their children in Catholic schools?
A: We have a legacy of great education and that continues. It is an experience of community they will have in Catholic schools, a faith-based community that they would not be able to access at public or private schools. When we talk to students about their schools, what they say is they come to school and feel they are a part of something. For children to feel a part of something, that is a priceless opportunity.
Q: What is the archdiocese doing to make Catholic education more affordable, particularly for families with several children?
A: We really try to make sure tuition doesn’t continue to rise in a way that doesn’t make sense. As we go through budgets we try to make tuition increases as minimal as possible. What the archdiocese is doing is trying to grow our endowments so tuition assistance is available. We encourage families to apply for tuition assistance and explore those opportunities. If you’re going to choose an alternative to public school, there is no doubt you’re getting a terrific value.
Q: What is the archdiocese doing to help schools grow their enrollment?
A: We’re making sure they’re doing everything they can to market their school. We have plans in place to support our schools with regard to their enrollment. We don’t know (yet) what those numbers (for the 2013-14 school year) are looking like.
Q: What is the role of Catholic identity in schools?
A: Catholic identity is why Catholic schools exist. Our Catholic identity needs to permeate everything we do. It is not about religion class. Catholic schools are different because they are Christ-centered.
Q: What effect does the Blue Ribbon Committee on Catholic Schools’ Strategic Plan, released in 2010, have on Catholic schools?
A: I want to underscore that it is a process. It is dynamic and we continue to work with the plan as our guide and continue to add more things or redirect them or take a little bit from one recommendation. We are able to provide more scholarships, stronger instructional opportunities for students and new programs: STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), Montessori, dual-language and PRIDE. All of those programs are part of the Blue Ribbon report.
Q: The archdiocesan PRIDE (Pupils Receiving Inclusive Diversified Education) program is new this year at St. John Regional Catholic School in Frederick and St. Mark School in Catonsville. What does PRIDE afford its students?
A: The PRIDE program is an opportunity for families who have always wanted Catholic education for their students. The PRIDE program is designed for them so they can be successful in the classroom. It meets the student where the student is.
Q: What is the significance of Archbishop Borders School in Highlandtown being one of 12 Catholic schools from across the U.S. selected to participate in the Two-Way Immersion Network for Catholic Schools (TWIN-CS).
A: We’re very excited about this program. It has so much possibility and not only meets the needs of the Hispanic population that has been attending Archbishop Borders for so many years but begins to address the needs of all young people to be conversant in Spanish and certainly any dual language.
To read about Archbishop Borders’ dual-language program and TWIN-CS click here.
Q: The Montessori program at St. Pius X School in Rodgers Forge, which began during the 2011-12 school year, is growing. Why is the program important?
A: It was a wonderful idea to put a Montessori program into the school and see if that was something parents were truly looking for – and it is. It is so important that students come in at the beginning of those programs. It’s a philosophy of learning. The sooner they enter, the richer the program is for them.
Q: In light of recent school shootings, what is being done at Catholic schools to ensure safety?
A: One of the things we emphasize is that the school has to have a relationship with local first responders. We’re consulting with Baltimore County, we’re consulting with Baltimore City. It’s important for parents to know we have those same community partners (as public schools).
Q: The theme of the 2013-14 school year is “Hearts on Fire.” What does this mean for Catholic educators?
A: This year’s theme was based on the celebration of the Year of Faith and wanting to make the new evangelization come alive and help teachers understand what that means for them. 
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