Schools collaborate to improve Catholic education

Fourth-grade teacher Jill Emerson, a graduate of Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Operation TEACH program, who is in her eighth year at the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, places student planners on the desks in her classroom as she prepares for the start of the school year. (Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)

By Elizabeth Lowe
Educators in the Archdiocese of Baltimore say partnerships between Catholic primary, secondary and higher education institutions benefit one as much as the other. Loyola University Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland University, both in Baltimore, and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg work with parochial schools to bolster Catholic education.
The most enduring example is Operation TEACH (Teachers Enlisted to Advance Catholic Heritage), a two-year post-graduate service program in its 13th year. While earning a master of arts in education from Notre Dame, students serve in Catholic schools and live together in community.
Twenty students are currently enrolled in the program, according to School Sister of Notre Dame Sharon Slear, dean of the School of Education at Notre Dame.
“It’s a win-win,” Sister Sharon said. “It keeps our hands in what’s going on in education. By knowing and working with the schools, we see what the problems are and we can work toward the solutions.”
Jane Towery, principal of School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, called Operation TEACH a “wonderful support.”
“Notre Dame strengthens our Catholic schools by looking for the best, brightest and most committed,” Towery said. “They spend time vetting those who go through the program. They’re looking for the cream of the crop, they’re looking for those who are involved in their faith.”
Before coming to the Homeland school in 2012, Towery served for 15 years as principal of St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, which had eight Operation TEACH teachers during her tenure.

Carolyn Summers, a graduate of Notre Dame of Maryland University ‘s Operation TEACH program, who is in her sixth year at the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, works on seating charts for her seventh and eighth-grade students Aug. 21. (Tom McCarthy Jr. | CR Staff)

In 2009, Loyola formed the Catholic School Leadership Cohort for teachers in the archdiocese who aspire to be principals. According to Peter R. Litchka, associate professor of education and director of graduate program in educational leadership for Loyola’s School of Education, teachers earn a master’s in educational leadership.
The first cohort graduated about 20 students in 2011; a second group of similar size expects to graduate next year, Litchka said.
“Across the country there is perceived to be, and in many cases it’s a reality, that there’s a shortage of principals to fill these positions in Catholic and public schools,” Litchka said. “Being a Catholic institution we want to be a partner in the education of aspiring principals.”
The partnership helps both entities, Litchka said.
“It benefits Loyola in that we can reach out to the local Catholic school community and provide a service to them,” Litchka said. “We’re providing a service to make sure Catholic education is sustainable and a place where parents can feel comfortable sending their children because of the high quality of teaching and leadership.”
On Aug. 25, Loyola will launch a two year professional development initiative with principals, teachers and teacher assistants from five Catholic schools, including Cathedral School and St. Joan of Arc, Litchka said.
“We want this to be thought-provoking, sustainable and enjoyable,” he said. “It’s creating a learning community where teachers can work on their craft in an enjoyable and challenging environment.”   
The Mount’s Center for Catholic School Excellence, founded in 2009, serves as a resource for the professional development of teachers and administrators in primary and secondary Catholic schools.
In 2011, the university established a professor in residence program through its School of Education and Human Services, which allows a full-time faculty member from the Mount to dedicate two years to a school.
“It’s really important for us to work in collaboration,” said Elizabeth Monahan, the center’s director, who was the first professor in residence in the program.
During her two years at St. John Regional Catholic School in Frederick, Monahan mentored student teacher interns from the Mount, observed classroom instruction and developed relationships with students and faculty.
“I felt like I became a member of the community,” she said. “I would like to think it’s a mutual agreement where the collaborative piece has been helpful to St. John’s.”
Karen Smith, principal of St. John Regional, said her staff easily communicates with the Mount professor and interns, four of whom will be at the school this semester. Past interns have been hired as teachers.
“We get to see them teaching,” Smith said, “so that gives us an opportunity to know how they would handle themselves in the classroom.”
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Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.