The state of our schools: One year later, Catholic schools vision coming to fruition

Students from Gesu School in northwest Detroit look over study materials during a classroom break. Since January 2019, the Archdiocese of Detroit has been working to implement a new vision for Catholic education, “Unleashing Our Catholic Schools.” (Marek Dziekonski | Special to Detroit Catholic)

The following column is written by Kevin Kijewski, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

When Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron hired me as superintendent just about two years ago, we determined it was time to do something different regarding our Catholic schools — it was time to permanently help our schools flourish.

For the first time in archdiocesan history, we gathered with hundreds of teachers, principals, parents, pastors and philanthropists in local school strategic planning teams to candidly and openly discuss ways to strengthen our Catholic schools. The fruits of the strategic planning process have manifested themselves in our new archdiocesan vision document released in January 2019: Unleashing Our Catholic Schools.

The importance of our Catholic schools and how they support the Church cannot be overstated. For example, millennial Catholics who attended Catholic schools are seven times more likely to practice their faith as adults compared to those who attended public or charter schools, according to research from Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. And men who attended Catholic schools are more than six times as likely to consider a vocation to the priesthood.

As confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Synod 16, for these reasons and others, we have affirmed that our Catholic schools and students are the responsibility of everyone: bishops, priests, parishes, educators, parents and all the lay faithful. This is why every parish, in its missionary strategic plan, must help make this vision a reality by supporting the parish’s children, whether it has a school or not.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron offers a student Communion during the Catholic Schools Week Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in 2019. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Our vision is ambitious, and rightly so, because our Catholic schools are vital ministries that must be supported by a robust approach. In our vision for Catholic education, we articulated four areas of focus: We want every school in the Archdiocese of Detroit to be “proudly Catholic, excellent in every way, accessible to all, and sustainable for the future.” One year later, I’m pleased to share with you a snapshot of our progress in implementing the archbishop’s exciting vision for our Catholic schools.

Proudly Catholic

The primary mission of any Catholic school is to assist parents in helping their children encounter Jesus Christ and the gift of our Catholic faith.

Authentic discipleship in schools is a key focus of our plan. To this end, we must ensure our hiring process for Catholic school teachers is strengthened and refined, so that we are staffing our schools with what our vision calls “disciple-teachers.” Both administrators and teaching candidates must discern this critical role as a vocation, not just a regular job.

Being a Catholic school teacher is a vocation, a calling from God to help parents form their children in the faith. Teachers should strive to possess and communicate real Christian wisdom and virtue in teaching. Teachers ought to convey to their students and awaken in them something beyond the subject by helping them understand the subject’s proper place in the students’ lives, pointing to the universal truths of Creation and giving them a love for learning.

In order to foster this discipleship mentality, the Department of Catholic Schools has redesigned and implemented ongoing formation programs for its school employees. Already, we have had successful events such as the Archbishop’s Catechetical Day for Teachers, the Principal Formation Institute (PFI), and the Instructional Leadership Institute (ILI).

Students smile during a class at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in Beverly Hills. 

To ensure the highest-quality teachers are hired and to promote excellence, we are developing a new hiring toolkit with the intention of finding and forming disciple-teachers, as well as an improved teacher evaluation instrument that will assess behaviors, actions and practices that are embraced by highly effective Catholic schools.

Academically excellent

Our vision also details the role Catholic schools play in the formation of the entire person: body, mind and soul. To better compete in today’s education market, the Department of Catholic Schools is helping schools develop new methods and innovations to meet students' unique learning needs and to provide an even higher quality of education.

For example, this year, we have partnered with the University of Notre Dame to begin working with select schools to provide viable STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. We also have partnered with the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education to develop new options for classical education within the archdiocese.

Our schools have also begun to incorporate “computer adaptive assessments” (in partnership with STAR Renaissance) to effectively gauge student competency and achievement, so teachers can provide more individualized instruction without spending excessive amounts of time on traditional tests.

Such changes will help schools become uniquely and individually excellent, all the while driving enrollment across the school system.

Accessible to all

Our vision also addresses how best to serve the fast-growing Latino population, as well as other immigrant groups, in our Catholic schools. The Church's future is closely bound to this growing population, and the Department of Catholic Schools has partnered with the University of Notre Dame to ensure greater numbers of Latino and immigrant families have access to Catholic education.

We also will focus on training teachers and school leaders in our schools with a better understanding of the diverse cultures within our archdiocese, and there will be a conscious effort to focus on recruiting and forming talented teachers from diverse backgrounds.

Students high-five one another on the first day of school at Divine Child Elementary and High School in Dearborn. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Sustainable for the future

Our final focus addresses the business and financial side of our Catholic schools. It is Archbishop Vigneron's goal to ensure that any Catholic family that wants a Catholic education for their child will be able to receive one, no matter their economic situation or circumstance. To achieve, we will optimize school budgeting practices and centralize financial support.

We have been hard at work developing a more cohesive network to address school funding needs. Archdiocesan schools historically have operated mostly autonomously from one another, but the future success of Catholic schools in the archdiocese will depend on system-wide funding solutions. Later this year, we will share exciting news about what we're doing to make our schools affordable and sustainable for the thousands of children we seek to serve.

As part of our reform efforts, we have already begun to establish boards of specified jurisdictions at schools, with the goal of complementing the leadership of the school pastor. By employing board members with specific areas of expertise, pastors are given the tools they need to govern parish schools more effectively. Pastors from area parishes without schools will also serve on these boards, in order to bolster their love and involvement with Catholic schools. The Department of Catholic Schools has helped to erect this governance model at two schools, and similar models will be deployed in various configurations across the archdiocese in the coming months and years.

For more than 150 years, Catholic schools in the Detroit area have been a force for change in society and for growth in the Church. Thank you for your partnership and support of our Catholic schools, helping to ensure a strong future of our children. Together, we will unleash the potential of our Catholic schools and become the best Catholic school system in the country.

Kevin Kijewski is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit. To learn more about local Catholic education, visit