How a School is Bringing Catholic Education to the 21st Century
By Lorin Helbling, Assistant Principal Blessed Sacrament Parish School
“Survival of the fittest” is often one of the phrases we science teachers use in discussing the concept of evolution with our students. It is a phenomenon also applicable to systems and institutions. Those able to evolve and meet the changing business environment and needs of clients in a timely manner will survive. Those that cannot are doomed to fail.
Bringing Catholic Education into the 21st Century
Catholic education must evolve in order to survive. One of the most significant of the challenges faced by Catholic schools today is a lack of financial resources. While high schools within the Diocese of San Diego are currently financially stable, there is concern for their future because of under-enrollment at many Catholic elementary schools. The slow financial recovery after the economic crisis of 2007-2008 and changing demographics of parish communities within the diocese have contributed to the inability of families to afford a Catholic elementary education.
In order to “work smarter, not harder”, reorganization of currently inefficient Catholic school systems is absolutely essential. The sharing of intellectual, material, and financial resources between schools will help. In the extreme, it may require school mergers at best, school closures at worst. At the school site level, Catholic education needs to be brought into the 21st Century. Catholic schools are in direct competition with private, charter, and magnet schools as well as with each other. Those that can evolve to meet the needs of families and their children seeking alternatives to public education while providing the highest quality Catholic education possible will survive.
Next Generation School Model
St. Katharine Drexel Academy will open Fall 2018. A newly merged school within the Diocese of San Diego, it has adopted and is implementing a Next Generation school model based on differentiated instruction through blended learning. This model incorporates the use of adaptive technology tools to personalize a student’s educational experience, rotation through activity stations, direct instruction within small groups, and implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
While blended learning is not new, it currently has different meanings. In some schools, it can mean instruction across multiple grade levels, sometimes a cost-cutting measure. In others, it means incorporating the use of technology into the curriculum. St. Katharine Drexel Academy has adopted both models. This has not only academic benefits, but serves as a vehicle for student leadership development as well.
The ultimate goal is to provide a Catholic education for all, personalized to a student’s specific needs. Students start where they currently are and are taken as far as they can go. This will require an infusion of financial resources for technology infrastructure and equipment as well as professional development for teachers.
Transition to Standards-Based Grading
The final piece involves student evaluation. St. Katharine Drexel Academy is replacing the traditional numeric/letter grade system with Standards Referenced Grading. This requires the teaching and reinforcement of a growth mindset and fosters student responsibility for their own learning. Students are encouraged to revisit and improve work as often as necessary until mastery is achieved. Submission of late assignments is noted in Successful Learner Trait report card comments, but tardiness of submission is no longer incorporated into the academic grade because late submissions often reflect student behavior rather than academic ability. Eventually Standards Referenced Grading will be replaced by Standards Based Grading, allowing students to advance grade levels at an accelerated pace.
For those willing to meet the challenges of this ministry, it is a very exciting time to be a Catholic educator in San Diego. To paraphrase the 1970’s song made famous by Gloria Gaynor, we will survive!
Want more insight into Catholic education? Read our blog Understanding and Implementing the Catholic Curriculum Standards.
Lorin Helbling is a 19-year veteran teacher with the Diocese of San Diego. She is currently a first-year Assistant Principal, Curriculum Director, and middle school science teacher at Blessed Sacrament Parish School. She is excited to be assisting in preparations for the merger of BSPS and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which will be completed fall 2018. From 1999 to 2017, Lorin served the University of San Diego High School/Cathedral Catholic High School communities developing curriculum for and then teaching Introduction to Science, Biology, Oceanography, Anatomy and Physiology, Earth Science, AVID, and Academic Coaching. She was Science Department Chairperson from 2001 – 2015 as well as a member of the leadership team during the implementation of Curriculum Mapping.