Strengthening Catholic Schools

Partnership Schools, an innovative network of Catholic educators, expands to Cleveland

While more than 50 Catholic schools have been forced to close their doors in the last few months, in part because of the coronavirus, two in Cleveland are poised to prosper under new management. Partnership Schools, a network of seven inner-city NYC schools that are connected to the local Catholic diocese but privately run, is expanding to the Midwest. 

Starting in July, the St. Thomas Aquinas and Archbishop Lyke schools in northern Ohio will be run by Partnership. While the local archdiocese will maintain ownership, Partnership will control finances, academics, and culture. 

Nick Howley, a Cleveland businessman and philanthropist, was one of several donors to help launch this transition in management. Howley has long been involved in education philanthropy. The Howley Foundation currently provides scholarships to 600 students, the majority in Catholic schools. Howley also leads the national board of the Cristo Rey Network, a group of 40 highly successful Catholic schools across the U.S. that combine academics and work training in innovative ways.

“We have a very strong belief that the best way to achieve upward economic and social mobility is to get a high-quality education,” he explains. As he learned about Partnership, he was won over by its unusual combination of character formation, high academic standards, and efficient management techniques. “I was impressed with their ability to make very meaningful changes in the academic performance of these kids, along with having a significant character-formation element.”

Howley says these two new Partnership schools will benefit from something Cleveland has that New York City does not: a state program offering approximately $5,000 educational vouchers for students. That eases the economics of a private religious school option for low-income students. Howley reports that donors to the Partnership schools in Cleveland will fund infrastructure and start-up costs: boosting the curriculum, repairing the buildings, purchasing equipment and materials. Eventually, Partnership aims to expand the Cleveland network to five or six schools. 

Partnership Schools launched in 2010, largely thanks to donor Russ Carson, who came up with the idea to privately manage Catholic schools under the purview of the Archdiocese of New York. Its 1,800 students in NYC now benefit from a flexible management structure and generous donor support. When the coronavirus pandemic caused schools to shut down for the semester, Partnership stopped charging tuition. Molly Smith, principal of the Mt. Carmel-Holy Rosary School in East Harlem, describes the decision as “an affirmation of what we’ve always believed to be true about our network: that we put our families and the people in our network first.”

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