Lots of good news about Catholic schools in the archdiocese

In a few weeks, thousands of parents in the Archdiocese of Boston will choose to send their children to Catholic schools. They choose our schools for a variety of reasons. Parents find our schools to have environments that are nurturing and strong academic programs. They also choose us because our schools are places where children learn about Jesus and his saving grace.

Catholic schools are an investment for a family. They are an investment for the Church. The return on that investment is great and as a new school year begins, I would like to share some of the data from our schools.

In the fall of 2015, Catholic schools in the archdiocese began to utilize NWEA Assessments. NWEA stands for the North West Education Association and this group of educators set out 40 years ago to develop assessments that measure a student's progress, in addition to achievement. The idea behind the assessments is to help students, parents and teachers to understand if a student is on a path to success, if they are learning each year.

The good news this year is that our learning growth rate, as measured by the NWEA assessments, increased by six percent over the 2015-2016 school year. In reading, our students in grades Kindergarten through eighth grade scored well above the national average, while our students also scored very high in language arts achievement. Our math scores improved and our teachers and students are working diligently to progress even more in all areas. The high expectations that our faculties have for all students mean that our students are learning with the assistance of our dedicated professional staffs.

Our schools serve a population of diverse learners. The number of students that are identified as having a special education need who are enrolled in our schools has increased. The number of English language learners in our schools has also increased and our schools are reaching out to these special populations to encourage more students to enroll in our schools. To help prepare to meet the needs of these diverse learners, our schools are providing teachers with the education that they desire to acquire more knowledge and skills in these areas. For example, St. Pius in Lynn is working with Boston College to provide their teachers with opportunities to learn more about working with children with specialized learning needs. Other schools have formed a partnership with Salem State to provide quality professional development in these areas. Emmanuel College also works with our schools to offer courses on the teaching of math and science and working with students who are English language learners.

Our schools are truly places of evangelization. Students spend significant time in prayer, worship and service during the school year. The results show that more than 150 members of our school communities were baptized this past school year. Approximately 79,000 hours of community service were performed by our students across the archdiocese. Our schools worked on implementing our new Faith Formation Standards this year and we believe that the utilization of these standards will increase our students' knowledge of our faith and Church teaching.

Another strength of our schools is the involvement of our parents. Parents who choose Catholic education are not only making a financial sacrifice to send their children to our schools, but they possess a spirit of dedication to our schools that is unmatched. Our parents raise money for our schools, they provide leadership on our advisory boards and they often provide support services to our students. Catholic schools recognize that parents are the primary educators of their children and it is our goal to support our parents and to be true partners with them as they raise their own saints and scholars.

Catholic schools are a true national treasure. Many of our local, state and national leaders attended a Catholic school. They learned that service to others and to God is expected of all of us and they have put that core teaching into practice.

There is a lot of good news for the Archdiocese of Boston concerning Catholic schools! There is also more work to be done. We need to continue to support our teachers as they continue to learn how to work with diverse learners. We need to find ways to provide additional financial assistance to our students. Through the Campaign for Catholic Schools and the Catholic Schools Foundation millions of dollars in financial assistance is awarded to students each year, yet there is additional need. We also need to continue to invite others to hear the good news of Christ, bringing others to the faith.

School will begin and we are excited about the opportunities that await us. With a strong faith in a God who loves us, we are very grateful for the work that renews. We are blessed to have devoted and enthusiastic school leaders, teachers, parents and students. Together, we begin the 2017-2018 school year prepared to help our students to become saints and scholars.

- Kathy Mears is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.