Three schools take new approach to governance

Academic excellence, accountability and efficiency.

Those are the three main goals of a new approach to governance for three Omaha Catholic schools that make up the Christian Urban Education Service (CUES).

Father David Korth, CEO of CUES and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Omaha, said the restructuring is designed to increase efficiency and accountability for donor contributions and student outcomes in the three inner-city schools – Sacred Heart, Holy Name and All Saints.

Founded in 1975 as a means of funding Sacred Heart School, CUES expanded in 2012 to include Holy Name and All Saints, which were in danger of closing.

"But we’ve realized we had no control over the other two schools, and were just handing over checks, and I don’t think that’s a good model under which to operate," Father Korth said. "So we wanted to create an infrastructure of accountability."

John Haske, CUES executive director and member of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha, said: "We have a responsibility to our donors to show how their dollars are spent and that they are spent effectively and efficiently."

Strategic planning sessions began last January, including current and past board members and trustees, faculty, staff, donors and area educators. CUES developed an 18-month plan for funding all three schools and creating a new governance model.

The original 24-member board of directors will continue general oversight of CUES, with primary responsibility for fundraising and disbursements.

But under the plan implemented in May, the schools’ financial, educational and administrative functions are centralized under a new, seven-person board of governors, with school principals reporting to a recently-hired education facilitator, Mary McGuire.

"We understood that the schools were already doing well, but we could make them better," said McGuire, a 30-year veteran of Catholic education as a principal, teacher and program coordinator and member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha.

Introducing different kinds of educational assessments for the students and joint professional development opportunities for the teachers will help bring best practices to the classrooms, McGuire said.

"They can make a difference in these children’s lives, but they have to have the tools to do it," she said. "The teachers and principals are seeing that we’re working hard to help them become better at their jobs, and if they become better at their jobs, then our schools will be better as well," she said.

Another benefit of the new structure is the additional educational experience available through the new board of governors, which consists of five area educators, in addition to Father Korth and Board of Directors Chairman Rick Bettger, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha.

"Our board of directors recognized there’s a lot of expertise on our board, but not for running schools," Father Korth said. "So, I hand it to them for encouraging us to create a board of governors filled with educators."

And better metrics on student achievement through common assessments will help fundraising efforts, Father Korth said.

Metrics and being able to gauge success are important to charitable foundations, Haske said. "They’ve indicated that’s very important to them, that we’re able to share numbers and details with respect to how our kids are doing," he said.

But CUES funding alone does not fill every financial need, Bettger said. Individual fundraising by the schools and other sources will continue, "… and those are very vital revenue streams," he said.

"We want to make sure we are ‘moving the needle’ for our kids as far as academic outcomes and that we can sufficiently fundraise and manage these three Catholic inner-city schools," Bettger said.

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