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Ann O’Connor, president of Roncalli Catholic High School in Omaha, visits at the school Oct. 25 with seniors Jaida Williams, center, and McKenna Murcek. Joe Ruff/Staff

Skutt, Roncalli and Gross Catholic high schools to collaborate

V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in west Omaha, Roncalli Catholic in the north and Daniel J. Gross Catholic in Bellevue in the south.

Those three archdiocesan high schools form a triangle of Catholic faith and academics in the Omaha area. And school officials, stakeholders and archdiocese officials have been working particularly hard since September 2017 to make that triangle even stronger.

“We want to expand awareness of these schools and help others in the community understand the great value they bring,” said Shannan Brommer, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Stewardship and Development. “We want to ensure that Catholic education is available in every corner of our city.”

Having an archdiocesan presence in high schools is important, as is providing the option of a coeducational experience, said Ann O’Connor, president of Roncalli Catholic. Five other Catholic high schools in the Omaha area are run by religious orders and offer all-boys or all-girls educations. 

O’Connor said she and others began to ask whether the archdiocesan schools could do more to work together, sharing best practices in teaching, development, policies and procedures, tuition and salary scales. 

Discussions ensued, and in September last year, Archbishop George J. Lucas established a task force of 25 people that included O’Connor and the other high school presidents – Dorothy Ostrowski at Gross Catholic and Jeremy Moore at Skutt Catholic – as well as stakeholders, community members, Brommer and Michael Ashton, superintendent of Catholic schools.

The group met about every other month and split into committees that met more often to study recruitment, retention and marketing, governance, development and finance.

One important takeaway: All three schools plan in the coming year to strengthen their board structures, moving from advisory groups to boards with limited jurisdiction. Those structures will give the boards more fiduciary responsibility and greater authority to provide guidance to school leadership, Brommer said.

“It will give us assistance here,” said O’Connor. “It will provide a little more assistance and direction – accountability and oversight.”

Opportunities also will be explored to share efforts in recruiting, retention and marketing, and identify collective brand messaging, Brommer said. 

On the academic side, O’Connor said, teachers from each school could share development opportunities, and instructors could be shared among the schools as needed.

Such efforts also could lead to stronger relationships and more informal sharing among faculty in the three schools, O’Connor said.

A Catholic education is particularly important, and high school is a key time for young people as they form lasting values and friendships, Ashton and Moore said.  

“Most people in Omaha know the academic benefits of a Catholic high school education,” Ashton said. “We want them to also recognize how critical it is that during those formative early teenage years that they can explore topics and difficult questions through the lens of their faith, rather than hearing the points from secular society and pop culture.”

High school is a key environment for faith formation, in part because students spend so much time together in the classroom but also in sports, theater and other after-school activities, Moore said. Sharing Catholic beliefs and values “sets you up for future success,” he said. 

Moore and Ostrowski also said they are enthused about developing stronger collaboration among the three schools. “We’re looking forward to the direction this is taking us,” Ostrowski said.

Mike Gawley, executive director of Holy Name Housing Corp. and a member of St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, chaired the 25-member committee. The process went well, and now the vision will be implemented, he said.

“Up until this group forming, each school pretty much operated independently of the others,” he said. “We are hoping that these three schools will get together periodically and share their efforts and resources.”

Brommer said each school can benefit and do still more to offer a Catholic education in the Omaha area.

“Let’s build a stronger triangle,” she said.

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