Posted in Catholic education, leadership, School governance

Tired of being Pollyanna

One of the things my pastor and I are known for is being so positive even when something is clearly not going well at the school.

A teacher quits?  Well, we’ll find another.

An aide quits?  Well, we’ll save money.

The same aide comes back?  Well, we missed her.

Kids leave?  Well, at least they’re trying another Catholic school (or: well, there are counselors at that school, at least).

That sort of thing.

The Director of Religious Education is floored by our ability to say, well, we’ll try this instead whenever something goes wrong or to spin anything that happens as another facet of God’s will, and keep trying.

The trouble is, we’re not really doing that so much anymore.

We’re exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

And stone-cold reality is setting in: there are simply not that many children in our city and there are other Catholic schools.

If we try to attract more Neurodivergent kids, we freak out the parents of neurotypical kids.

If we use the word Disability, we scare the people who don’t have Disabled kids.

If we use the word “homeschool-friendly,” we freak out the non-homeschoolers.

If we talk about dual-language immersion or a high school or any of the other things we have discussed, we will freak out so very many people.

In the end, our plans are too large for a parish school.  For those of you who don’t know the Catholic ed landscape, there are parish schools, run by individual churches.  These are the traditional model back from when the American Catholic Church decided each parish should have a school.  Most of these schools have closed, but some have remained.  They struggle a lot because the average person doesn’t know a thing about running a school and yet, they must.  It’s kind of like how school boards made up of ordinary people run a public school, but the difference is the pastor IS the school board (ultimately) and there’s no training at seminary about running a Catholic school.  So it’s like picking some guy at random from the town and saying, “here, have a school.”  Even school board personnel have to get elected.

Now, there are great pastors who are highly skilled at running a parish school, but most of the time they have to figure it out themselves as they go.

There are other types of Catholic schools.  There are independent schools, run by orders of nuns or priests or monks.  These are, according to the research, the most successful kind largely because the supervising order brings in a lot of experience of running schools and knows already how to work with the “system” to produce results.  There are also independent schools run by lay people (non-priests/monks/nuns) and they are a mixed bag in terms of efficacy.  Some places are even experimenting with charters that are technically not “religious schools,” but “faith-inspired” schools.

But most of the schools are parish schools like mine and the main reason most of us struggle (those of us who somehow are still here despite the HUGE decline in Catholic schools) is because we are caught between what we’d like to do philosophically with the pragmatic matters of running a school.  In the end, most of us (not all of us; some of us are ableist jerkfaces) would take more Disabled students, but if we do that we risk running off the other parents who decided to use school as an escape.  Historically, at times, it was an escape from people who didn’t look like them, people who didn’t behave like they did, etc.  Now, toss Disability on the table because even the public schools must serve Disabled students now, instead of trying to foist them off on some institution.

And as a Disabled person myself, this is all very alarming.  I can’t serve my kids who need me the most because I can’t get the funding together to do it.  In the end, the parish wants this school to look like it always did: serving white working class people.  The trouble is, they don’t realize the white working class people of today simply cannot afford tuition.  Working class does not mean a cushy job with plum benefits.  My parents make minimum wage, or just over, and fret insurance if they make too much for the state plan.  Working class currently does not have the luxury of paying any tuition and does not have the luxury of Saturday nights off every week to set up a bingo game to fund the school.

And even if all this was possible, I would STILL be charged with reaching out to a multicultural audience and trying to serve the Disabled besides.  Because that’s the right thing to do.

In the end, this was a job no one would have taken, and I get that it was always impossible, but I wanted to believe that it was only improbable.  But when I’m the only one really trying to save the school…it’s hard to play the glad game with Pollyanna (side note: if you’re unfamiliar with the story, watching her get crushed by sudden Disability was pretty danged ableist not to mention focusing on getting “healed”…).

I am unsure if I should be happy to have given them one more year and have that be enough, while planning for where they all will go next year, or if there is more I should do.  I’m praying, constantly, but despite glimmers of hope (I know of some kids who want to join us next year), the reality is oppressive.

Is it Autistic leadership that I can play the glad game no matter how gloomy it all really is?  Does it mean that I find hope in the hopeless?  Or does it mean that I don’t have the sense to walk away when I know I ought to?

In the end, I know what we need to do: figure out our direction, and write down a budget for what we’d need to make that a reality and start writing the grants and asking for help.

My gifts are in words and planning.  Father’s better than I am at being charismatic, so he’ll sell whatever I pitch.  But it’s all on me.

But I am one person.

And my spoon drawer is emptier every day.


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