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Eighth-graders Penelope Williams of St. Thomas More, left, Jane Kucera of St. Bernadette, Cesar Saloma of Holy Cross and Emma Peters of Our Lady of Lourdes schools take a break while discussing and making a poster about stereotypes in school at an Oct. 14 retreat on leadership at Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue.

Consortium continues to fashion community of faith, academics, service

A five-school consortium created in Omaha five years ago continues to build a cost-effective community of faith, academic excellence and service – and the best is yet to come, school leaders said.

"It’s a very exciting time," said Donna Bishop, assistant superintendent of Catholic schools and executive director of the Omaha Catholic School Consortium. "Our focus is on what’s best for students, and we’re working on creative ways to bring that about."

One sign of success among the five elementary schools – Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Thomas More, all in Omaha, and St. Bernadette in Bellevue – is enrollment climbing from 1,420 students at the consortium’s opening in 2013 to 1,727 students this year, Bishop said.

Now, the consortium is working on a three-year development plan that received strategic planning suggestions at an all-day meeting in October with 70 school and community leaders, parents, alumni and others. And pastors among the 16 parishes in south Omaha that support the consortium met in November to discuss the results and add their suggestions, Bishop said.

Sharing academics is one way the consortium is reaching students and keeping costs down, Bishop said. (See accompanying story). The elementary schools also are strengthening community by sharing faith and expertise.


SHARING FAITH, resources

Students and faculty from all five schools, for example, gather for faith and character-building projects, including retreats for students and the archdiocese’s School of Faith formation program for teachers and administrators.

This year, seventh-graders met Sept. 15 at Holy Cross School for a retreat designed to encourage students to follow their hearts instead of the crowd, and use moral courage to make good decisions. And eighth-graders met Oct. 14 at Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School in Bellevue for a leadership retreat.

Katie O’Brien, an eighth-grader at Holy Cross, said the retreat gave students from different schools an opportunity to get to know one another beyond sports and quiz bowl competitions. "I made a couple of friends, and we still talk," O’Brien said.

Chris Nelson, principal of Holy Cross, said the all-consortium school retreats provide an opportunity for students to hear different perspectives, and realize they are not isolated, but part of a larger whole.

"We want them to know they are part of that," she said.

In addition to sharing the faith, the consortium has centralized aspects of planning, publicity and fundraising through a development director hired last year, Nicole Evans.

It also has centralized the purchase of cleaning and other supplies for the five schools, and it is sharing custodial expertise instead of hiring outside contractors for certain tasks.

For example, Chris Brannan, head of maintenance for Holy Cross Parish and School, said he and Terry McWilliams, chief of maintenance for the consortium, worked together last summer to build wooden shelves at Our Lady of Lourdes School, where officials had heard about Brannan’s abilities as a woodworker.

"Whatever helps everybody get along," Brannan said of his help not only to Our Lady of Lourdes, but also some white board repair work at Ss. Peter and Paul School.



Evans organized the strategic planning sessions in Omaha that will be key in the coming months to mapping out a three-year plan.

People at the sessions suggested six areas of concentration:

· Maintain and strengthen the consortium’s distinctively Catholic identity

· Strengthen financial sustainability

· Hone communication efforts

· Drive academic excellence

· Broaden community outreach

· Efficiently manage resources

The consortium also is restructuring its board of directors and seeking new board members, perhaps to concentrate on financial and funding development, Evans said.

One important aspect of the consortium is the financial and other support not only from all five parishes associated with the schools, but also 11 parishes in south Omaha that don’t have a school on site, Evans said.

Efforts are being made to bring the pastors of those parishes more into the schools, and to find additional ways to include those parishes, Evans said. The parishes are Assumption-Guadalupe; Holy Ghost; Immaculate Conception; Our Lady of Fatima; St. Andrew Kim Taegon Catholic Community; St. Bridget-St. Rose; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Mary; St. Mary Magdalene; St. Peter; and St. Stanislaus.

"This goal falls under several initiatives – Catholic identity, communication, community outreach," Evans said. "We want to partner with all of the parishes to help meet faith development needs at our schools, and it’s really a good way to handle resource management."

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