By Bill Henk – During Catholic Schools Week 2014, it’s only fitting to thank the 151,405 or so professionals who make these treasures happen.
Although this year marks the 40th anniversary of commemorating Catholic schools with a designated week, Catholic education in America dates back formally some 172 years to 1842. Just imagine how many students have benefited from the academic excellence, character development, and faith formation that these schools have cultivated in that time.
Currently these schools, which number 6685 nationally in all, educate over 2 million students, 70% of whom attend elementary/middle schools with 30% attending secondary schools. And, what few U. S. citizens know is that nearly 20% of the students in Catholic schools represent racial minorities and almost 16% of the total enrollment, or well over 300,000 is non-Catholic. May God bless all of those who serve children in our Catholic schools in our country and around the world.
Catholic Education Here at Home
But my primary focus today falls locally, on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee with its nearly 32,000 students attending 99 elementary/middle and 14 high schools, all accredited. Ours is a special Archdiocese where elementary school students score on average in the 71st percentile on national tests, where 99% of our high school students graduate, where 94% pursue higher education, and where enrollments are rising! These metrics are no coincidence. They’re the result of inspired leadership, uncommon teaching, and a supportive Catholic community.
In particular, I want to single out Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, the remarkable Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and her outstanding trio of Associate Superintendents: Sue Nelson, Brenda White and John Soper as well as Katie Heino, the gifted Schools Marketing Coordinator, and two excellent Administrative Assistants in Janelle Luther and Maureen Wurster. This group does extraordinary work, and those of us close to their Office for Schools believe that it is incredibly strong despite being short-staffed and dealing with numerous schools that are funded and governed differently and geographically dispersed. Plus, the Office must deal with the same limited financial resources that plague nearly all of us in education these days.
And I’d be sorely remiss in not applauding Archbishop Jerome Listecki. The Archbishop qualifies as a true champion of Catholic education in every respect. His support of the Office for Schools and his community leadership has made a significant difference in the vitality of our Catholic schools in the region.
In closing, I want to thank the many marvelous principals and presidents of our Milwaukee Catholic schools and the amazing teachers, office staff, and school workers who make this academically rich, faith-filled education possible.
A Special Note: For the record, my wife and I are personally indebted to my daughter’s Catholic School principals, Ellen Knippel at St. Charles Borromeo, and Gina Brown at St. Mary’s Parish School in Hale’s Corners, as well as her teachers: Barbara Leonard (then K-4 at St. Charles), and Linda Scharine, Christina Cimpl, and Kris Kuchenbecker (kindergarten, first, and second grades at St. Mary’s). As parents, we could not have asked for anything more than what has been generously given to our beloved child in instruction, values, spirituality, and love.