Archdiocesan High Schools to be more independent

Facing increasing diversity amongst Catholic high schools, the Board of Trustees of Archdiocesan Central High Schools, Inc., (ACHS) announced Oct. 15 plans to transition eight high schools currently governed by the archdiocese into more independent schools.

For years, ACHS has run the high schools, approving their policies and curricula and managing their finances. As of January 2004, the central board of trustees will bestow greater independence on the high schools, allowing them to approve their own policies and control their own finances. The ACHS will continue to approve the religious curriculum and the hiring of religion teachers at the schools.

The decision is the result of a two-and-a-half-year process aimed at ensuring the future viability of the schools, said Sister Kathleen Carr, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. An obstacle to this “viability,” she explained, is that a single board of trustees oversees “eight very different schools.”

We feel that a central board, “removed from the day to day” events at the schools, is not “as effective as having a board with one prime focus at each of these eight schools,” Sister Carr continued.

"Local governance" will allow the schools to be overseen by individuals "with a passion, an understanding and a commitment" to their particular school said Sister Carr, adding that individual boards will be better able to address the distinct needs of each school.

"The umbrella is that they are Catholic schools, but if you were to peek into the door of each of those schools there's a very different set of circumstances that are operating within these institutions," explained Sister Carr. "So, you need sets of people at each of the eight schools who will help support the leadership of the principal and enable the school to thrive and be viable into the future."

The eight high schools affected are: Archbishop Williams in Braintree, Bishop Fenwick in Peabody, Cardinal Spellman in Brockton, Cathedral in Boston, Marian in Framingham, North Cambridge Catholic and Matignon, both in Cambridge, and Pope John XXIII in Everett.

Sister Carr noted the ties that will maintain the high schools’ connection to the Archdiocese of Boston: the ACHS will continue its ownership of the school buildings, the schools are required to comply with the by-laws for archdiocesan schools, and each member of the individual boards of trustees will be appointed by Archbishop Seán O’Malley.

The ACHS has been working on the transition since April 2001. A subcommittee researched management models at other institutions and found that governance “at the local level” would be most effective for the schools, said Sister Carr.

"Local governance provides an opportunity for each of these schools to involve a group of interested individuals with skills and talents in the areas of finance and education, and with a real passion for that particular institution and to help it move into the future able to address the very distinct nature of their school," stated Sister Carr.

Each school will have its own board of trustees with authority to set policies and agendas for their school and with financial sovereignty from the archdiocese. In the past, the high schools had to gain permission from the ACHS for such things as school fundraisers. If an archdiocesan fundraiser was taking place at the time, permission may have been denied.

Some have expressed concern that urban schools will not be as successful as suburban schools in becoming financially independent.

Sister Carr is “not concerned at all” about city schools, saying that schools such as North Cambridge Catholic have been “creative” in addressing concerns about financial instability. North Cambridge Catholic recently adopted the model of a Cristo Rey school, where students work five days a month in entry-level jobs at businesses and corporations. Instead of paying the students, employers send their earnings — which cover about 70 percent of their tuition — to the school. North Cambridge Catholic also received substantial grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation. Cathedral High School in the South End is hoping to continue to receive aid from the local business community, she continued.

Many of the high school principals praise the decision to give the schools greater authority.

"I'm absolutely delighted," stated Sister Thomasine Knowlton, CSJ, principal of Cardinal Spellman High. "I think that this change is a very positive one for Cardinal Spellman High School, and probably for the other schools...I think we will be able to control our own destiny -- we will have a board of trustees who are really connected with our school."

"It's very positive and a really healthy redrawing of relationships -- that the people who are local and shoulder the responsibility for keeping the school thriving are able to share in governance," said David Marion principal of Bishop Fenwick High. "I am excited and delighted, and very confident that folks in the schools who have the most invested will make this work."

Since February 2002, the ACHS has had regular meetings with the principals to prepare them for the transition. According to Sister Carr, the ACHS presented a number of frameworks and models each school could adapt when comprising its own board of trustees. “We’ve really set the ground work very well,” she said.

Sister Knowlton agreed, saying, “we have been supported and advised along the way to learn to be independent and not rely on funding from the archdiocese, and with that kind of encouragement we certainly feel a great deal of confidence that we should be able to manage this very, very nicely.”

According to Sister Carr, the schools will be separately incorporated and papers filed with the state in January. The individual boards will begin acting next September.