By Madi Field/Freelance Writer, OND
It has been a joyful year of blessings in Catholic schools across the Diocese of Crookston. Two schools are starting building projects, and most have experienced growth in the last few years. In fact, since 2014, student enrollment in the diocese has grown 20 percent or 240 students.
“Gone are the days of referring to textbooks as curriculum,” said Tina Stanger, Superintendent of Diocesan Catholic Schools. “Schools now view the word ‘curriculum’ as all the resources a school uses to teach students. It now encompasses a plethora of online resources, staffing, and supplemental materials all brought in to help students meet standards. Diocesan schools view state standards as the “bare minimum” that we want our students to achieve. Therefore, they are doing a lot of work to ensure they go above the mark.”
The Diocese of Crookston’s Catholic Schools have joined together to begin a seven-year curriculum review cycle to improve their curriculum and keep it from being just a “binder on the shelf.” They recently went through an accreditation process, with one of the expectations being to review, maintain, and update curriculum so that it aligns with standards. The seven-year curriculum review currently underway is the diocese’s way of going above and beyond to unite the schools, and ensure their students receive an excellent education.
Stanger has been considering this method of curriculum revision for a few years, gathering insight from the Diocese of Duluth which has already started a similar seven-year cycle. She asked Andrew Hilliker, Principal of St. Joseph’s Catholic school in Moorhead, to take lead on this project, who, as she says, excels at the kind of work that this curriculum review entails.
“We knew this was a difficult and big thing to do, but we wanted to make sure we did it, and did it well,” Hilliker said. He is looking forward to collaborating with the other schools and building strong rapport though the process.
This first year of a seven-year cycle, an eight-member committee led by Hilliker worked on the social studies curriculum. Another committee of five led by Randy Schantz, principal of St. Bernard’s School, Thief River Falls, focused on physical education.
Each year, a new content area or two will be evaluated. Each committee will have a principal leading a collaboration of teachers in that subject area from schools throughout the diocese. The biggest challenge for this year’s committees was finding time to meet, however, they managed to gather on four or five occasions. There is a lot of work that goes into the review process, and after the year of focus is done, committee members go into the background, sending e-mails and working to implement the changes that were agreed upon in their schools.
Because the whole diocese is combining for the seven-year plan, it takes the pressure off one person having to accomplish it all themselves. Having different core committees meet each year to review the standards and desired outcomes splits up the workload. The biggest success has been willingness from each school to come on board with the idea.
“Each school does some things really, really well, and if we can pull together those strengths of each school, we are all going to be collectively better for it,” said Hilliker. “In addition, it is already alleviating some of the pressure and demand on individual schools to meet the accreditation standards, because we have this system in place and we are relying on each other to help get it done,” he said.
Stanger said the curriculum review’s purpose is “to make our schools deeply excellent. We already know that a lot of our test scores are coming out ahead of the local publics, but we really want to focus on making sure our curriculum is central to all we do, and that our decisions to purchase or hire are always in support of our curriculum.”
All of the schools, except St. Mary’s Mission School, now use Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing through Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), so data is the same across the board. “I can pull a report for all of us which makes it more meaningful, statistics-wise,” explained Stanger.
Not only are suggestions from the curriculum review process making data analysis easier, the schools are also saving on textbook costs because they are reviewing the data to know what area needs materials, instead of buying books because it is up next on the budget rotation.
The entire process will strengthen many areas because the schools are working together to reach a common outcome, and through the process, they will provide eachother with accountability and combine their resources.
The love of students is the reason these principals and teachers are so willing to put in extra work to improve the standard of learning. “A ministry is putting one’s whole self and lifetime of experiences into one’s work. That is what our teachers do. The Catholic schools teach the entire child; raise the child up to be the best person they can be in the eyes of God,” said Stanger.
Those involved are hopeful that this seven-year curriculum review cycle will bring the students in the Diocese of Crookston Catholic Schools to a greater level of excellence.