Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

School Courtship: Hoping to Beat the Odds With Careful Planning

When Catholic schools close or consolidate, most everyone ends up in public schools, no matter how careful the planning.

We have a unique situation, though, where the ones who wanted to give up already gave up last year, and those who remain would really rather stay together, if they could.  We are also within a mile of two other Catholic schools with a third slightly further away than that.

So, we’re courting the closest, our first “daughter” parish, the second oldest school in town.

On paper, this is a good arranged marriage: fact one, they need us.  They need our kids and our money, such as it might be, because they are the next to go, on paper, if they can’t right themselves financially.  Unlike us, however, they have more reserves since families were wealthier when they began and they have had the time to grow and nurture that investment.  They have the time that we didn’t.  We have an interesting dowry, too, with a whole lot of books that are new, and a nice endowment of our own for scholarships.  And a parish who will be feeling guilty soon about how they let this closure happen, so I’m hoping to negotiate for more scholarships besides.  We think, but are still investigating, that a merger means they get credit for our Title I kids, and all of my kids were Title I eligible so they will get increased Title I services, if this is the case.

Beyond that, they are the most liberal, educationally-speaking.  We were caught in the 70’s, and the school that “everyone will say” we should join is lagging behind by about two decades.  They have already failed one of our students (she will never go back there) and their unsportsmanlike behavior and bullying have gone unchecked; I have family that has just said, well, that’s the mean class…as if that’s okay.  Meanwhile, our intended school has historically been more progressive, educationally, so it is arguably the best match philosophically.  They have had fidget toys in the classroom for nearly a decade and used to use a popular program called “the Daily 5” (maybe I’ll find they still are!) which encourages choice and independence in educational decisions, though with more scaffolding than we’ve managed to build in, so it tends to be easier for parents to understand.  I believe they use the same math books, or have in the recent past.

Then there’s the aesthetics.  Their school was actually built before our current building, but has many of the same features: big rooms, high ceilings, natural light, and they boast a bigger, but traditionally set-up church, with real aisles and stained glass instead of what I jokingly call “theatre in the round.”

Finally, because there’s no guarantee our parish won’t close next, they are the most likely to be ready to take on Hispanic ministry, should the parish merger ever occur because they are more progressive socially and have a native speaker of Spanish on payroll to teach Spanish.  We are hoping that, if this works out, we could encourage these parishes to join, if they must.  They are both downtown, after all.  Alternatively, if all goes well, we believe they would be better able to help guide what happens to our old building if it should be repurposed as a school again in the future because they have an older building as well and will have connections who understand managing these beauties.

So, after talking to their principal, we’re beginning the courtship this week.  It’s Catholic Schools Week, the Catholic school equivalent of homecoming, and they are having a dance at school, with littles and bigs together.  My middle schooler will love being able to stand off to the corner and talk to his friends (he has two there now) instead of being in the office with the adults.  My tiny kids will love dancing with friends their own size.  And their kids will LOVE that we might be bringing them more kids in the very age range they have lower numbers.

And he’s invited the parents and wants to come to us to meet with them and talk, too.

He’s also interested in my teacher, if he has an opening.  Multi-age teaching experience, much less love for it, is hard to find in a teacher.  She is eager to make a good impression, because she wants to stay in town with Catholic education.

So we will begin dating, and see if we will marry.

One of my parents, the one who already was thinking she’d be pulling her child out at the end of the year, is thrilled by this, and wants us to end the year AT this school.  She wanted more kids around, and this will solve her concerns.  Another was also considering moving her child at middle school because of numbers as well.  This would increase the numbers for them, too.

On paper, it’s the perfect match.

We’re praying this courtship turns into love and marriage to follow, because if I can keep these kids (and hopefully their teacher, too!) together and beat the odds, that will still be a very big win.

Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, Disability in Education, leadership

It is Over: Ableism and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

While scrolling through Twitter, I caught another poll (they seem common, lately, on Autistic Twitter) about employment.  I marked “full-time,” which really understated how much I work, and for how little.

In a few short months, that won’t be accurate again.

Fair warning: this is a post that will get ranty a bit because, well, ableism.

Continue reading “It is Over: Ableism and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, Self-Care

Quality is What Counts: Letting St. Michael the Archangel Take Care of the Demons Sowing Doubt

In the library field, numbers matter.  There are really only two statistics anyone cares about: your circulation (the number of materials “checked out”) and the patron count (who comes to your programs).  It can be maddening.  I interviewed a teen librarian in my last career as an academic researcher-type, and she was properly irritated with this.  She’d recounted times she’d had two or three people attending a children’s or a teen program and the quality of the interaction was so high, it was fantastic, but on the paper, she had to write that three people attended.  Over the past few years, our own library’s storytimes have exploded in popularity and it’s getting hard to fit more people in the room.  The “quality” of the interactions is not great since the librarian nearly has to shout over the babies and toddlers’ babbling now, but heck, they’ve got the numbers!

In education, it’s the same.  Everyone wants to know how MANY you served and how MANY are where they ought to be.  Few even care how MUCH growth each one has, really.  Numbers only matter in aggregate.  This is why special education programs are always getting picked on by taxpayers: why should we help the few with stuff that costs so much (or bodies; extra aides can be pricey, so we do our best to avoid giving them full-time hours or benefits) when the gifted get their needs ignored?

Why, indeed?

Continue reading “Quality is What Counts: Letting St. Michael the Archangel Take Care of the Demons Sowing Doubt”

Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership, Teaching

That Principle is a Bitch: What I Believe About Education

So we’ve recently had some “scandal” in my school regarding how my priest and I colluded to ruin the school.

Keep in mind, we only had between 60 to 70 students in the last decade or better except for one spike at which we briefly went up to 90 and went right back down.

Also, Catholic schools that close almost always have over 100 students in them at the time.

Also that we have to run the school as the parish hall regardless so fewer students means fewer staff members so the difference between running the school with and without kids is financially negligible.  Because there are few of us.  If I have to hire more people, we get into the danger zone.  So we’re fine now, and actually BETTER on paper than when we had 60 kids.

But somehow Father and I destroyed everything.

One Protestant who pulled all her kids out is getting all her gossip from someone who is making things up in her head about what is happening.  It’s somewhat hilarious to see her calling me a bitch all over the place when we have never once spoken.

Ever.

Oh, and she spells my job as principle, which is amusing to me.

So, in her honor, and in honor of all my naysayers, I figured I’d write about my beliefs of education, which are also, not surprisingly, the underlying principles of my school. Continue reading “That Principle is a Bitch: What I Believe About Education”

Posted in Autistic Identity, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, higher education, Identity, writing

Goodbye, Academia (Again)

[Image: A brick wall has been broken down and the foreground has some debris that’s difficult to make out. There is a large, green coniferous tree standing directly in front of the opening. It is sunny outside. A mist hides some of what is beyond, but the world outside seems welcoming.]
If you follow me regularly, you’ll know that I’ve recently been conflicted about whether to focus my non-school related energy on pursuing an Ed.D. or focusing on my writing.  You may also remember, I’ve got all the Ph.D. courses necessary for a Ph.D. in Education or Library and Information Science, but I left the path to the ivory tower because of a lack of support.

The little voice in me finally started to speak; actually, she screamed during this #BoycottToSiri saga that’s been going on lately.

The little voice that is me had already been complaining considerably while I was writing my paper to end the semester.  I knocked the thing out pretty quickly and it’s fine; it answered my questions, and I did okay.  But I hated every minute of writing that academic paper.

Here’s what I learned about myself.

Continue reading “Goodbye, Academia (Again)”

Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, leadership, Parenting, School governance, School Leadership, Teaching

Focusing on Forever: the Difficulty of Catholic School Administration in a Here-and-Now World

As a school principal and a parent, I get a few things about education in a way that other parents and principals might not.

First, I get that school is a “right” in a theoretical sense.

But I also get that administrators have to balance rights against each other.  In other words, they have to make school safe for the majority with the limited budgets they have.

It was that understanding of reality that made me decide to homeschool our Autistic son.  There is no way I can expect him to be in a group of other chatty people and have him have any sense of happiness.  Perhaps if we had found my school with me as leader when he was younger (as in, pre-kindergarten in his case; his school damage was gigantic), it might have been different.  We didn’t, and he doesn’t even like the idea of going back to school, so he won’t at this time.  I figure, that’s okay, we’ll make it work.

But we have enough privilege to be able to have jobs that involve working at home.  I used to score standardized tests at home, and my husband does testing for an Autistic-friendly company.

Not everyone has that, which is why I’m glad to have my school.

As a Catholic school principal, I am not merely charged with getting kids ready for college.  I am, however, charged with getting them ready for college, work, to be a mom, dad, religious sister or brother, priest, etc. as well as getting them ready for heaven.

We take the long path.  We are focused on much, much more than grades and college-preparation. It is a slow, winding journey with many missteps.  We sin, we fall, but we confess and we learn and we do better the next time.

It is not as easy as preparing kids for college.  There is so much more at stake in a Catholic school.

My kids know this and are good at forgiving each other for mistakes of all kinds.  At least, they normally do.  Long-term parents, also, know, that little dust-ups shall pass, and they move on pretty fast because they know the kids love each other and this is a safe place.

However, sometimes parents can be a bigger issue than the kids.

I had an issue this week with a parent who was upset because a student struck her child.  He was uninjured.  He hit back.  She was uninjured.

Here’s what happened, and how the parent over-reacted because she was too busy advocating for her own child at the expense of other children.

Don’t be this parent.

Continue reading “Focusing on Forever: the Difficulty of Catholic School Administration in a Here-and-Now World”

Posted in Catholic education

Friendship Challenges: Unteaching What the World Teaches Us

As you might imagine, my school is a haven for those who have been bullied in previous institutions.  Because we are small and we are also multi-age, it’s a lot harder to do that thing where kids decide (never the adults, do not kid yourself into thinking you have any say about popularity in a typical age-graded institution) who is and is not acceptable.  Also, because we follow the philosophy of St. John Bosco, we actually hang out with and play with our kids a lot more than in traditional schools.  We do this to mentor them more effectively and also to watch out for trouble spots.

Let’s think about a traditional school for a moment.  In a typical school, there are 15-35 kids in each class (the exact number varies dramatically) and based on the historic segregation of Disabled people as well as people of color, the kids are typically one race and “abled” enough to be tossed into “gen pop” (those so Disabled that they make teachers’ lives too hard in gen pop get hidden in segregated classrooms).

There is one teacher or sometimes there might be two adults.  The children greatly outnumber the adults.

And all the kids are the same chronological age.

No wonder they so easily ferret out who is different and make school a living hell for those people who don’t pass muster as “worthy.”

But my school is different.

My school is multi-aged (K-8).  Currently, we are not as culturally diverse as we were, but we are diverse in terms of socio-economic levels and abilities and/or neurotypes.

(I should make a quick note here that historically people of color are reluctant to homeschool, or engage in alternative-type schools unless encouraged to do so by the public school authorities.  It’s not because they don’t want to or can’t homeschool or look for alternative schools; however, there is heightened risk in parenting differently when you are a Person of Color.  Many school authorities have bullied Black parents with a call to child protective services if they don’t raise their kids the “right” way.  With longer-term success, I hope we can have more culturally diverse families using our program since it won’t be an “experiment” any longer.)

When children are constantly confronted with peers who are different ages, genders, races, and neurotypes/abilities, they are more acceptance of difference as no big deal.  When class sizes are small, kids learn quite quickly to make do with whoever is in the class with them, too.

Normally, all goes well here.

But we take what we learned from the “outside” with us.

Sometimes, I have to explicitly teach friendship to my students.

Here are the main rules I give them, with adjustments made based on specific circumstances.

Continue reading “Friendship Challenges: Unteaching What the World Teaches Us”

Posted in Catholic education, Self-Care, Teaching

Neurodiversopia: A School Where We Can Be Ourselves

When you’re in the middle of just running your school and living your life (and often fighting for the opportunity for your school to stay open), you forget sometimes to appreciate what you have.

I administrate and sometimes teach in a tiny Catholic school and my kids are in, currently, a one-room schoolhouse configuration, from Kindergarten through 8th grade.  There aren’t many of them, and they learn together and separately, on their own work, at their own paces.

At times, when people come to my school, such as the guy who comes to read the gas meter, he asks whether school is open.  Oh, it’s open.  They’re just upstairs and not that loud.

The thing of it is, it’s not that quiet ever.  My kids love to run and jump and play like everyone else.  My girls shriek, and I have a student who struggles with modulating her voice.  They can be very loud.

But it’s not really all that loud as compared to a school with mostly neurotypicals.  As it happens, I maybe have one or two neurotypical students, I think, and that’s not because I chose to have them; those are the kids who stayed after I became principal.  And the kid I think is neurotypical is a sibling of one or more Neurodivergent siblings, so he is growing aware of how to live Neurodivergently.

Anyway, we went to a very, very large Mass this past week, and it involved people from all over.  It’s helpful for young Catholics to see they are not alone in a highly secular world, so on a theoretical level, I was glad to go.

In practice, it was very overwhelming.  Here’s what happened, and what we learned from it.

Continue reading “Neurodiversopia: A School Where We Can Be Ourselves”

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.

Continue reading “Tired of being Pollyanna”