The following is a short letter that I submitted to the New York Times a few weeks ago in response to an article about Catholic schools. Though it was not published, you may be interested in reading the responses that made it into the Times on January 13th.
Patrick McCloskey and Joseph Harris highlighted many of the challenges of parochial schools in the United States in their New York Times op-ed on January 6th (“Catholic Education, in Need of Salvation“). As principal of a small parochial elementary school in the Midwest, I can attest to the many challenges that we face. Chief among them is the need to keep Catholic education affordable. The need to keep tuition low to ensure that enrollment remains stable is in direct conflict with our desire to pay teachers a living wage and reward them for their service to the Church. The rising cost of health insurance adds additional burden to budgets that are already stretched.
And yet there is hope. A charismatic and dedicated parish priest who prioritizes education can work wonders for his school by emphasizing the importance of a Catholic education from the pulpit. Small parishes in middle class neighborhoods can raise surprising amounts of money to help keep tuition affordable and provide assistance to those who need it. Parishioners sometimes just need to be asked.
Principals, too, are a part of the solution because we have a tremendous amount of freedom to do what is best for our students. We are often unhampered by standardized testing and the crushing infrastructure, politics and requirements of public school districts. There is a large degree of freedom in being a parochial school administrator. Let’s start taking advantage of that to make our schools progressive and innovative.