On Oct. 20, Catholic school supporters will elect new boards of trustees for their school districts. This is an opportune time to reflect on what Catholic schools mean for our families and students, and to plan how to promote Catholic education during the next three years.
Catholic schools are a unique gift, no more so than in Alberta. We are one of three provinces in Canada that enjoys the benefit of a fully-funded Catholic school system.
Trustees have a responsibility to the government to manage their schools in a way that demonstrates fiscal responsibility and educational insight. At the same time, trustees are responsible to the local bishop to see that their schools profess and demonstrate their Catholic character.
Alberta is one of a very few places in the world where the Catholic school is able to educate, or provide funding for the education of all students regardless of ability. This is not Catholic education for a select few, but Catholic education for all.
Two issues about the distinctiveness of Catholic education that need to be considered are the home-school-parish triad and the appropriate preparation of teachers for Catholic schools.
The Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association has prepared a guide for those considering Catholic school trusteeship called Answering the Call to Vocation: Becoming a Catholic School Trustee (available at www.acsta.ab.ca).
The document begins by reinforcing the vision that "Catholic education is a unique partnership between the school, home and parish. Together this triad seeks to develop the student's whole person by integrating academic excellence and faith. The central focus of Catholic education is Jesus Christ."
Unfortunately, this triadic principle is often more honoured in its repetition than in practice. The core of the problem here is a unified vision of the relationship of Catholic and education.
Baptism lived out through each partner's vocation should be the common feature that unites the triad while each partner's talent serves to enhance the overall quality of the school experience.
Teachers are the professionals in education, but often have little preparation for the Catholic aspects of school.
Parents who know their children best have contributions to make about education in general as well as the religious dimension of the classroom/school, but often are reluctant to voice their opinion because they are not experts.
Pastors have a theological and pastoral formation to provide for people's spiritual care, but often have limited understanding of regulations governing publicly funded schools. The partners need a means where their strengths and limitations can be shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
On a practical level, how would you, as a trustee, propose to strengthen the active participation of the members of this triad in school?
Though students receive from two to four years of training to become teachers, depending on whether they have an initial degree, they rarely have a religious formation equal to their professional formation. This is the case in Alberta.
Only a limited number of BEd graduates have even two courses in theology or religious education as part of their program. The exception to this situation is the elementary generalist, BEd after-degree program at St. Mary's University College in Calgary.
Statistically, Alberta graduated 1,829 teachers in 2009. St. Mary's first class graduated 32 teachers in the spring of 2010.
Not only does consideration need to be given to more courses, but also to a more comprehensive program of faith formation.
As a trustee, how would you like to be able to respond to a parent who says, "I know that Shannon's teacher has met the 'education' criteria to teach in Alberta as laid out by Alberta Education. What are the 'Catholic' criteria that she has met to teach in a Catholic school, and where did she receive this formation and training?"
This is the major challenge to Catholic education. What steps would you encourage your board to take to see that teachers have an adequate formation in religious and spiritual areas before they begin to teach?
Nominations for school trustee elections close Monday, Sept. 20.
(Dan Kingdon was involved with Catholic education in a variety of capacities for over 40 years including 22 years with Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools and 11 years as the director of religious education at Newman Theological College.)