Chapter 4: Investing in Talent
Prior to 1960, nearly all Catholic-school teachers and principals were members of religious communities—sisters, priests, or brothers. Today less than 3 percent of full-time Catholic-school staff are from an order. That transition has not been easy.
Half of the Catholic-school funders recently surveyed by The Philanthropy Roundtable identified a “lack of good school leaders” as among their three biggest concerns. “The way Catholic school leaders are recruited, selected, trained, and compensated is woefully inadequate,” warns Stephanie Saroki de Garcia of Seton Education Partners. “If we’re going to get serious,” urges John Schoenig of ACE, “we have to attend to the school-level leadership issue.”
“I have yet to see the supply of high-quality school leaders ever come close to the demand,” the former superintendent of Paterson, New Jersey, Catholic schools, John Eriksen, told us. “This is in spite of a raft of Catholic school closures. Somehow, there still are never enough great leaders.” Sister Rosemarie Nassif of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation summarized succinctly that “principal leadership is the driving force for success. We need to seriously investigate ways to attract, develop, and retain high-performing Catholic school principals, including the provision of competitive compensation.”
Calling all leaders
Catholic schools were spoiled by the essentially free work of generations of religious men and women—what was sometimes called “the living endowment.” Lay educators require wages, benefits, and retirement plans that are at least reasonably consonant with district-run and charter schools. Today Catholic schools generally pay significantly lower salaries. The average base pay of a public-school teacher was $53,100 in 2012, compared to just $40,200 for private-school teachers of all sorts. Lower pay brings higher turnover. Of all private-school teachers today, 24 percent are in their first three years of teaching, compared to just 13 percent of public-school teachers.
Despite lower wages, religious and private schools do have advantages. Less than 5 percent of private-school teachers report that issues like student conflicts, disrespect for teachers, and children arriving unprepared to learn are “serious problems” at their schools. Public-school teachers report those things to be problems in their classrooms at about four times that rate.
When the Partnership for Inner-city Education took over a group of Catholic schools in New York City, the philanthropists driving the effort were able to hire Kathleen Porter-Magee as superintendent of the new network of schools. Prior to then, Porter-Magee was an executive at Achievement First, a high-performing charter chain, an adviser to the College Board, and an expert on Common Core curricula. Landing someone of Porter-Magee’s caliber drew attention and praise for the Partnership.
It was the Partnership’s energy and determination to make breakthroughs—and the exciting blank slate and big upside of Catholic schools—that attracted Porter-Magee. Her presence led in turn to other important hires. “It’s very difficult to attract great talent into a broken business model,” philanthropist Leo Linbeck points out. But where Catholic schools undertake creative management and open themselves to trying new things, their long history of pulling surprising accomplishments out of children can draw in impressive partners.
As Catholic schools make themselves a destination for high-potential talent (like today’s top charter schools have), many good things will follow. Katie Everett of the Lynch Foundation urges the Catholic-school leaders she works with to organize their campuses, and then sell them to potential staff recruits, “as places where talented people want to build their careers.” A question Russ Carson asks himself whenever he makes Catholic-school investments is “How do we create new structures and new processes so Catholic schools attract high performers who will make them successful?” It is a question others should ask as well.
It’s not difficult work that scares away talented people, it’s lack of vision and upside. The important work being done in urban Catholic schools is invigorating, life-enhancing activity, and if top teachers and leaders are given support and latitude to put their stamp on this activity, they can fuel the resurgence of an indispensable buttress to inner-city communities.
Leaders are made, not just born
Supporters must do much more to train the women and men who become teachers and principals in Catholic schools. Whether traditional preparation programs are up to the task, however, is very much in doubt. There is now a significant body of research questioning the link between traditional credentials from a teacher college and classroom effectiveness. Emphasizing paper credentials instead of passion and practical preparation in teachers is a problem at all schools today, not just Catholic institutions.
A particular reason to be cautious about conventional credentialing of teachers is that Catholic-school instruction has an extra dimension unrelated to what teacher colleges provide. Good Catholic schooling imparts not just academic skills but lessons in character, morals, and religious tradition, and this is closely linked to the surprising bang that Catholic schools get for their buck.
The work of Catholic-school teachers “is not only a job, a profession requiring specialized expertise,” summarizes the National Catholic Educational Association, but “a ministry requiring courage and confidence.” This element is important to parents, and to most donors. Steve Hoeppner describes the goal of the Schulze Family Foundation’s Catholic-school support as not just “excellence in education” but also “expansion of access to moral and spiritual formation” among children.
With that in mind, what Catholic schools perhaps most need to create, copy, or fold themselves into today are the alternative paths to teaching that charter schools have created. These focus not on pedagogical theories but on very practical, empirically proven techniques, with a heavy emphasis on how to motivate children to put in extra effort and succeed, and a clear view of education as a moral mission. These alternative teacher-training paths have drawn into education thousands of bright, principled, passionate people who have never darkened the door of a teacher college.
For instance, the nonprofit known as TNTP has quickly become one of the nation’s most innovative and successful nontraditional teacher-preparation programs. It has prepared thousands of candidates to succeed in both conventional schools and charters. We asked its longtime leader Tim Daly whether lessons learned in trying to improve the training of public-school teachers could be brought to bear to help Catholic schools.
He noted that the initial impulse on the public-school side was to “work with entities that already produce teachers and hope to shape them so they produce the teachers needed.” Unfortunately, “urban districts and charter-school organizations eventually realized that traditional teacher-prep programs would not turn out the quality or quantity of teachers they needed to elevate instruction substantially.”
This same point was made by other experts we talked to. Saroki de Garcia expressed skepticism about conventional university-based programs: “I have seen funders invest gobs of money into starting teacher-development programs at their favorite Catholic universities. This rarely produces great leaders.” Christine Healey of the Healey Education Foundation agreed, “A degree from an education school and certification alone does not determine a good leader or quality of leadership.”
When charter-school leaders realized this, they decided to try something different: producing their own teachers. Though this can be challenging, when done right the result is “educators who are carefully selected and trained for the environments in which they’ll work,” as Daly puts it. See Excellent Educators: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Cultivating Great Teachers and Principals for many examples of the alternative teacher training systems that are now turning out many of the instructors today’s highest-quality schools seek most avidly.
Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, suggests Catholic-school donors shouldn’t give up completely on conventional teacher programs. “Donors have an opportunity to put pressure on higher-ed institutions that aren’t providing solid training to new teachers. (Donors should take a look at NCTQ’s “Path to Teach” ratings, at PathtoTeach.org, to learn which programs are succeeding and which are falling short.) John Schoenig of Notre Dame’s ACE urges donors to press Catholic colleges in particular to take hardheaded action to elevate teacher training. “Catholic higher education has to make substantial investments. They can’t sit on the sidelines. They must play an integral role in the formation of our next generation of Catholic school leaders.”
But it will probably be necessary to create some fresh, out-of-the-box training programs to put pressure on today’s lumbering teacher-prep establishment. It was only when nontraditional paths into teaching like TNTP, Teach For America, the Relay Graduate School of Education, Match, and others exploded in popularity that the responsive teacher colleges began to institute some of the reforms that had made the new guys on the block more effective.
Whether donors choose to start something wholly new, partner with existing entrepreneurial efforts, or work with longstanding university-based programs, they really must put new emphasis in the future on the human element in Catholic schools. “We fund chefs, not kitchens. Nothing happens without good people,” explains philanthropist Dan Peters. “Being a venture capitalist taught me to invest in people,” agrees donor B. J. Cassin.
Following are programs that illustrate some of the initiatives under way to improve the pipelines that bring teaching talent and leadership skills into Catholic schools. Some are university-based, some are independent. Some focus on teachers, some on principals and network leaders. All are just beginning to address a need that is urgent.
Formed in 2010 by the unification of three urban education programs, the Accelerate Institute focuses on training teachers and leaders to succeed in tough, big-city neighborhoods. It works with district-run, charter, and faith-based schools throughout Chicago, and includes a specific track focused on Catholic schools. This “three-sector” approach is part of a “sector-neutral” movement catching on in many cities, and should be encouraged by donors keen to support what works, regardless of who is operating the school.
It’s important to ensure that three-sector programs actually respect the character and needs of Catholic schools. Their special characteristics can’t be ignored or treated as a footnote. Accelerate has done a good job of incorporating a Catholic-school perspective into its teacher training. It was fortunate to have as its leader for a time Rob Birdsell—previously CEO of the hugely successful Cristo Rey Catholic schools, and currently leading the Drexel Fund that aims to propagate Catholic schools as a venture-capital firm would. (See Chapter 6 for details on the Drexel Fund.)
Alliance for Catholic Education
In 1994, two Notre Dame priests—Tim Scully and Sean McGraw—founded the ACE Teaching Fellows program. Often referred to as the “Catholic version of Teach For America,” the fellowship places highly talented college graduates into Catholic schools in underserved communities for a two-year service experience. It combines professional training, spiritual development, and personal support (teachers live in community with other teachers). For years it has attracted some of the top graduating students from Notre Dame.
ACE teachers take master’s-level coursework, ultimately earning a master of education degree from the University of Notre Dame, and they are eligible for teacher licensure in the state of Indiana. They live together in groups of four to seven peers during their fellowship placements, which helps fellows share burdens, successes, useful information, and emotional energy. The program immerses fellows in retreats, Masses, prayer services, and pastoral support.
The ACE program now places more than 170 highly competent college graduates in parochial schools across the country each year. Since its founding, it has trained more than 2,000 Catholic-school educators.
ACE also operates a program specifically created to train great principals. The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program is a 25-month undertaking that leaves participants with both a Notre Dame master’s degree in educational leadership and all the necessary coursework for a principal’s credential from the state of Indiana. Remick Leaders complete a hands-on internship at a Catholic school, and take part in a helpful mentor workshop.
University Consortium for Catholic Education
In 1999 the University of Notre Dame hosted a meeting of Catholic universities running special teacher-education programs and those interested in starting such programs. These colleges began meeting twice annually, and in 2005 this informal rump group solidified into the University Consortium for Catholic Education. Today, the UCCE consists of 13 university-based alternative teacher certification programs that collectively place more than 400 teachers in Catholic schools each year.
All UCCE programs are modeled after ACE’s successful teaching fellows. Fellows complete graduate coursework at their respective universities while spending two years serving as a full-time classroom teacher in a needy faith-based school. All participants deepen their faith and spiritual lives through dedicated retreats, prayer time, and worship, and all students live in community with other fellows during their two-year stint.
This pipeline of talent has become very important to Catholic-school principals, especially those in innovative networks. “We’re trying to tap every elite Catholic college in the country” when hiring new teachers, reports Kathleen Porter-Magee of New York City’s Partnership for Inner-city Education. “Next year, we’ll have ACE teachers in our schools for the first time.”
Lynch Leadership Academy
A gift from the foundation of legendary Fidelity Investments manager Peter Lynch and his wife, Carolyn, established the Lynch Leadership Academy in Boston in 2010. Offered through the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, it trains approximately 30 fellows each year. The program’s application process is highly competitive. Fellows are drawn from the leadership of Catholic, charter, and district schools across Boston and its surrounding areas.
Katie Everett of the Lynch Foundation explains that not placing the academy in a traditional school of education was intentional, and important to success. “We put it in the business school,” not just because “school leaders need to be good at budgeting, management, finance, and PR,” but because this put some distance between the program and conventional ed-school orthodoxies.
The program’s three-sector approach was also carefully formulated. “School leaders from charter, Catholic, and district schools have things in common. We’ve found that sharing good practices breaks down misconceptions about each sector. Peer-to-peer mentoring among professionals has a huge impact. Relationships among these different kinds of school leaders continue on. Eventually, people mainly care about good schools, instead of who is operating them.”
For the 2014-2015 school year, the Lynch Academy selected 25 fellows from a pool of more than 170 applicants. They enter either an aspiring-principal track or the sitting-principal track. The program starts with a retreat and a two-week summer institute, then professional-development workshops and personal coaching are provided throughout the school year. Each fellow is paired with an instructor who offers 10 hours of individualized support each month and leads the fellow toward school goals.
Fellows accepted into the aspiring-principals program complete a yearlong residency in a Boston-area school in their sector (a Catholic school for Catholic leaders). Fellows work closely with that school’s principal, who also serves as a mentor. Through this residency, aspiring principals gain experience leading instructor training, guiding team meetings, observing teachers and providing feedback, engaging with the community, and managing daily operations.
Lynch Academy graduates who have had their professional progress tracked demonstrate measurable improvement in staff management, problem solving, instructional leadership, and relationships. “We’re hoping to expand the model to other districts in Massachusetts soon,” says Everett. “And then to other parts of the country.”
Fulcrum Foundation’s pipeline for leaders
Two years ago the Fulcrum Foundation hired a mentor to support two Catholic-school leaders as they implemented a new blended-learning program. Each principal first worked with the mentor to develop a set of goals and priorities for the upcoming school year. Principals and expert then met weekly to discuss challenges and progress.
This assistance was offered because blended learning was new and uncharted territory for both leaders. Their mentor provided practical, hands-on support as they implemented the new technology and associated programs. That was very helpful in making this big transition successful at both schools.
Fulcrum Foundation director Anthony Holter ultimately realized, however, that “the biggest benefits came from the mentor building leadership skills in the principals, and working with school staff to set up leadership teams. We realized the program could address more root issues like school culture, capacity, expectations, discipline, and recruitment. We decided to capitalize on this and elevate leadership as a continuing place where we could be helpful in lots of ways for lots of Catholic schools. Our leadership academy is attempting to capture this.”
The Fulcrum Foundation and the Seattle Archdiocese Office of Catholic Schools are in the early stages of developing a leadership pipeline to train existing and prospective Catholic-school principals. As currently conceptualized, this will have two main tracks: The first will offer candidates training sessions throughout the year with different departments in the archdiocese—budgeting, personnel, spiritual development, etc.—to improve performance in all these areas. The second part of the program will try to draw new talent into Catholic-school leadership. Current teachers, public-school principals, career-changers, and others will be offered preliminary instruction, then get an opportunity to apply to the Fulcrum Foundation for funding of graduate-program or certificate training that will qualify them to be a principal in a Catholic facility.
As of 2015, the Fulcrum Foundation is providing about 60 percent of the tuition so two fellows can attend the University of Notre Dame’s Remick Leadership Program. Eventually, they aim to develop a list of “preferred providers”—schools with strong track records of educating high-quality Catholic school leaders—and let fellows choose their own programs. In exchange for tuition support, accepted candidates agree to serve in local Catholic schools for five years.
NYC Leadership Academy
The New York City Leadership Academy is a nonprofit that trains talented individuals to run high-quality schools for underserved students. Starting in 2003, the program was funded to address the dearth of highly effective principals in New York City’s more than 1,200 public schools. The program expanded beyond New York City, and since 2008 has worked with more than 40 clients in 26 states.
The organization primarily works with public-school districts, state departments of education, and universities. However it has helped the Consortium of Jewish Day Schools train principals for Jewish schools in California and New York City, and is currently partnering with the Commonweal Foundation to design a program specifically for faith-based schools. It could become a pipeline for Catholic schools in the future.
NYCLA offers a variety of services. It can teach schools or groups of schools how to launch their own leadership development programs. It runs three leadership programs itself: one for aspiring principals, one for current principals, and one for leaders on the district level. Each “emphasizes hands-on job-embedded learning, practical skills, and the ongoing self-reflection that enables educators to continue to build and refine their leadership practice.”
Governing boards are another place where the quality of Catholic-school leadership needs to be improved. Partners Advancing Values in Education is a Milwaukee-based nonprofit that assists religious and private schools in finding good candidates for school governing boards and then instructing them. PAVE has deep roots in the Catholic Church, having been launched in the 1980s initially to help Catholic schools raise money. From there it grew into a student-scholarship-granting organization. When the Wisconsin legislature created the state’s voucher program in 1989, PAVE shifted its focus to offering information and services that strengthen Catholic, other religious and private, and charter schools. It has received strong funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and other Milwaukee donors.
“Our scholarships allowed kids to access the schools, but some of them were struggling, and faltering in quality as they served new populations,” explains PAVE official Joan Feiereisen. “We went through a couple of phases as an organization trying to figure out how to help expand high-quality schools. We realized that many of the schools needed support with the business side of running a school, so we narrowed our focus to good governance,” particularly recruiting and training board members.
“In the beginning, if the Catholic schools we were working with had a board at all, it was usually just a committee of parents who maybe advised the pastor or school principal on some issues. They weren’t really making critical decisions for the schools. In some cases, schools didn’t even have boards. School management was just an item on the church leadership’s agenda. We needed to help schools realize the value of having a really quality governing board,” explains Feiereisen.
PAVE helps schools find supporters with varied skills to serve. They look for talent and experience in areas like business management, law, marketing, finance, and education. All board members go through a “boot camp” which PAVE developed in conjunction with BoardSource, an organization that improves nonprofit boards of all sorts.
Boot camp instructs newly recruited board members on their roles and responsibilities, and provides needed background on the nuances of the Milwaukee and Wisconsin school contexts, including their nation-leading choice programs. The training consists of one eight-hour session followed by “deep-dives” into three or four particular subjects over a semester. These deep dives focus on topics like planning for succession at the head of the school, building better committees, mastering finance, fundraising tactics, and strategic planning. PAVE provides background resources on all these matters to all board members.
PAVE uses the same application and interview process when recruiting for religious schools, other private schools, or charters. Some candidates specify a particular type of school they wish to serve; most frequently PAVE matches individuals with schools based on their skills and school needs. “Recruitment has not been an issue at all,” said Feiereisen. “We have lots of young professionals who are passionate about education and want to be change-agents in this city, as well as empty nesters who want to give back. We haven’t had any trouble finding talented, interested people.”
Over time PAVE has built trusting relationships with the schools it serves. It has been an invaluable influence on schools making the sometimes scary but important transition to a much stronger governing board. PAVE wants board members to be fully engaged with their school—especially the principal and pastor in a Catholic school. “There has to be trust there if this is going to work,” explains Feiereisen.
One valuable side-effect of having a third-party nonprofit like PAVE serving a variety of schools citywide is the interconnections and spirit of camaraderie that often grow up among board members serving at different institutions. “Other board members can be really powerful allies and resources in this work,” Feiereisen points out.
Schools That Can–Milwaukee
Schools That Can–Milwaukee brings together teachers and leaders from district, charter, and religious and private schools that participate in the region’s school-choice programs. The organization is pursuing a goal of “20,000 by 2020”—creating 20,000 new, high-quality seats across all three sectors by that date. More than 175 educators from 38 schools in Milwaukee that enroll 14,000 students are currently active in STCM. The group is part of the national Schools That Can network, which also has affiliates in Chicago, Newark, and New York City.
The organization offers leadership coaching, teacher training, and peer-to-peer visits to high-quality schools. It brings to Milwaukee leaders of high-performing schools and innovative nonprofits from elsewhere, and works to transfer some of their successes to the locality. It recruits high-potential leaders for Milwaukee schools. And it has partnered with Alverno College and the Burke Foundation to create master’s degree and licensing programs that hone principals to succeed in urban schooling.
Saint Remy Initiative
The Saint Remy Initiative is a partnership between the University of Dayton Center for Catholic Education and the Cincinnati Archdiocese Catholic School Office. Its purpose “is to provide Catholic-school principals and teachers with an opportunity to strengthen their knowledge and skills in the spiritual, academic, and managerial dimensions of their ministry.” The program was inaugurated in 2007 with funding from the Joseph and Mary Keller Foundation.
Nine schools and 27 teachers and principals participated during the first year. By its eighth year, the program hosted 67 participants from 20 schools. It works on a three-year cycle, with each year focusing on a different pillar of Catholic-school leadership: spiritual, educational, and managerial.
“Most professional development for educators is a one-shot deal,” states program founder Toni Moore. “But the most effective professional development focuses on the formation of the person, not just on acquiring skills. I wanted to create a program where personal and spiritual development is embedded throughout, where we are helping school leaders figure out all of who God has called them to be so they can really step into the calling in their schools.”
Each year begins with a weeklong summer session covering personal spiritual growth, team-building, expert speakers, and time for school-level teams to develop a project that will strengthen the Catholic identify of their school. The summer session ends with a two-and-a-half-day tour of Ohio sites of historical significance to the Catholic faith. The identity-strengthening projects developed by school-level teams have included closer partnerships with the school’s founding religious order, creating grade-level themes based on virtues (e.g., focusing third grade on justice, fourth on charity), and retreats to build understanding and closeness among school staff.
Participants also get four full days of professional development throughout the year. These daylong sessions include specific material on the subjects or grades that each person specializes in. Every year, specific books or topics are chosen for months-long study and discussion and then implementation of relevant content or skills into teaching.
Catholic Leadership Institute Project
CLIP, which grew out of the Saint Remy Initiative, trains Cincinnati-area principals using the management insights of Clay Mathile, founder of the Iams Company and an active philanthropist. After selling Iams for $2.3 billion, Mathile founded a nonprofit that provides entrepreneurial and free-enterprise education, and offers business owners training that will help them succeed and expand. A faithful Catholic, Mathile has included Catholic-school leaders among those eligible for management training. “We are trying to help Catholic-school leaders see that, in many ways, they are the CEOs of a business. They need to develop many of the same skills,” explains Toni Moore.
About 25 Catholic-school principals participate in CLIP at any given time, progressing through the program in cohorts of six to eight individuals. They meet monthly in management-training sessions. And each principal is paired with a professional coach who helps implement the new practices back in their schools. “We want them to develop leadership skills for their schools, but also for the larger community of Catholic education,” says Moore.
Talent must be the top priority
If backers of Catholic schooling are to turn today’s propitious conditions into a full-fledged renaissance of the sector, they must focus on recruiting, developing, and retaining talent. No thriving system, no matter how smartly built, can be made people-proof. Governance change, school-choice advocacy, building consortia and networks, providing back-office services—these things are all important and valuable places for philanthropists to contribute. “You could do everything else right, but terrible leadership will close a school,” warns donor Christine Healey.
Good strategies will only go as far as the people leading them. The traditional pipelines of human capital that allowed Catholic schools to mushroom—dedicated sisters and parish priests—completely evaporated a generation ago. New leaders with new competencies are desperately needed.
Donors eager to reinforce Catholic schools should recall NHL-great Wayne Gretzky’s famous line about his uncanny ability to consistently be several steps ahead of his opponents: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Philanthropists should build talent for tomorrow’s system of Catholic education, not yesterday’s.
Catholic schooling in the future will be marked by more independent, non-parish schools, more networks, more specialized academic programs, more advocacy for improved public policies, and other changes. The sector needs to prepare accordingly. “These schools are 2-plus-million-dollar operations. You can’t say they’re not businesses,” states longtime Catholic-school donor John Stollenwerk. “But pastors don’t have training in finance or business, much less fundraising. Bishops don’t either. We need to do what businesses do, what universities and hospitals do. We have to change, or else these schools are going to fold.”
What kinds of talent will be needed, what information and skills must individuals possess, in order for Catholic schools to thrive in the future? Existing programs need to be re-positioned in those directions. And new organizations are unquestionably needed. In the great hunt to come for the requisite talent, donors will be essential.
A note about professional development
Why does this chapter on talent focus primarily on identifying, recruiting, and training educators instead of developing those we already have? The unfortunate answer is because the research shows we simply don’t know how to reliably improve a mature teacher’s performance.
It’s not because we haven’t been trying. A new report by TNTP finds that school districts spend an average of $18,000 per teacher per year on professional development. Nevertheless, the researchers couldn’t identify any strategies that produced significant performance gains. This sadly aligns with previous research, including studies done by the federal government’s Institute of Education Sciences and National Center for Education Statistics.
There are wide variations in the effectiveness of teachers. And some educators do improve measurably in their early years. The profession has little idea, though, of how to identify teachers capable of improving, or of how to craft programs that will help them.
The past decade’s most promising successes in improving the existing teacher force have been the Measures of Effective Teaching experiments funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These use test results, student surveys, and expert classroom observations to score how well teachers do at moving students further down the road of learning (regardless of where they start). When teachers are randomly assigned to different groups of students, their MET scores accurately predict which will be effective and which will flounder.
These measures are available for any school to take advantage of. And the logical next step is to begin to pay, fire, and hire teachers using scientifically developed measures of student progress—something that is being done with real success in Washington, D.C. and other cities. But this requires an unsentimental willingness to tell some teachers that their classroom results are substandard and that their gifts are not for leading children.