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Educators address educational standards, commitment

Father Ralph O'Donnell, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Omaha, c

onverses with teachers during a breakout session at this year's Catholic Schools Fall Conference at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha Oct. 7.
Photo by Lisa Schulte

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

It was a day of empowerment and learning for the nearly 1,400 educators who attended this year's Catholic Schools Fall Conference Oct. 7 at V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.

Teachers from the archdiocese's 80 Catholic schools attended breakout sessions and heard Dr. Douglas Reeves speak on effective strategies to assist in the implementation of a standards-based curriculum.

The theme for the conference was "Calling on Christ as We Lead in Times of Change."

Sister Michelle Faltus, SFCC, superintendent of Catholic schools, said as teachers continue to lead Catholic schools in the 21st century, they must keep before them the purpose for maintaining Catholic schools – to bring Jesus to children and children to Jesus.

"It is of utmost importance that we keep this in mind," she said.

It is also important, she said, that educators in Catholic schools engage in serious strategic planning and ask themselves how they can best provide Catholic education to all youth who desire it.

"These times of change will challenge us to find alternate ways of funding, including empowering our parents to lobby for more tax dollars, marketing our schools on our results, preparing our teachers to teach to the individual differences that children and young people bring today to our Catholic schools," Sister Faltus said.

It will also require "maintaining a safety plan that provides security for our children against possible terrorist attacks and educating principals and teachers to deal with legal issues that we never thought would be part of our Catholic schools," she said.

'Ten Commitments'

Dr. Douglas Reeves speaks on effective strategies for implementing a standards-based curriculum.

In the keynote address, Reeves spoke on "The Ten Commitments for Student Achievement."

He is chairman and founder of the Center for Performance Assessment, an international organization dedicated to improving student achievement and educational quality.

He challenged the teachers to improve student achievement through practical and constructive approaches to standards, assessment and accountability. He also applauded them for their current approach to standards, their pilot programs and their system of experimentation, teacher feedback and modeling their own successes.

"There are some things you're doing here that are profoundly different from what other schools are doing around the world," he said. "You're approaching standards, not because of some federal or state imperative. You're doing it because of a moral, professional imperative. It's the right thing to do."

The "Ten Commitments for Student Achievement" that Reeves explained are: fairness, feedback, accuracy, rigor, writing, expectations, collaboration, transparency, improvement and truth.

Importance of writing

Much of his talk focused on the importance of non-fiction writing for students.

"When we do more non-fiction writing … we have better scores in math, better scores in science, better scores in social studies, even better scores in physical education," Reeves said. "We want kids to do better in every area, and I'm telling you, whether they're going to college or going to work or technical school, writing, writing, writing is what we need that will help them think."

Skutt theology teacher Pat Hoarty agreed with Reeves' emphasis on writing and said he was pleased to know that what he is doing in the classroom is helpful to students.

"I have them write a ton about Scripture and connecting it to their own life, the themes we talk about in class, and hopefully, making connections to their world outside of just what's at Skutt," he said. "I think writing opens up a whole new world of expression."

After attending one of the day's breakout sessions, Kristi Steffen, a first and second grade teacher at East Catholic in Fordyce, said she is grateful to be a teacher at a Catholic school.

"As a teacher, we have the power to inspire our students and to encourage them to really look for the gifts that God has given them, to define them, name them, own them and share them," she said. "We're all (at a Catholic school) because it's about glorifying God and we try and incorporate that into every area of the day."

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