BRIDGEPORT—Describing teachers as the “spiritual mothers and fathers” of their students, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told Catholic educators that in addition to building academic skills they are also forming young people in the faith and values that will guide them over a lifetime.
More than 700 Catholic high school and elementary teachers turned out for Convocation 2017 at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport to officially begin the school year.
The program began with Mass celebrated by Bishop Caggiano and diocesan school chaplains, and included an address from Steven Cheeseman, Superintendent of Schools and motivational speaker Jonathan Doyle.
Bishop Caggiano said that “teaching is a noble and sublime vocation,” and that Catholic schools are “homes” that safeguard children, teach them how to be lifetime learners, and to discover values “of God and family.”
“A Catholic school is a home where the heart of Jesus can be found, and that heart beats in you and me,” said the bishop. “Thank you for your witness, your authenticity and for the hope you give our students in increasingly difficult and conflicted times.”
The bishop said that many students may eventually forget the lessons they learn in school, but they always remember their teachers.
“I will work with you to strengthen our schools for the next generations to come,” he said.
The bishop said he believed that Catholic schools provide a superior education in “mind, heart, hands and spirit, and invited teachers to join in the “renewal of the Church” by making schools “authentically and genuinely Catholic.”
The Kolbe Cathedral High School Choir directed by Joe Elbertson provided music for the Mass. Fr. Michael Novajosky coordinated the altar servers from St. Joseph High School.
In his yearly address to diocesan educators following the Mass, Superintendent of Schools Steven Cheesman expanded on many of the themes mentioned in Bishop Caggiano’s homily.
“I don’t want Catholic schools to be public schools with religion classes,” Dr. Cheeseman said. “We have the freedom to be so much more than that.”
Dr. Cheesman said that Catholic schools have “academic excellence,” but also have the opportunity to define their own “common core—and that core is Christ.”
He drew applause from teachers when he said that Catholic schools would not use a standard assessment “to judge students, but to help them,” and likewise, it would not use standard assessments “to grade teachers but to inform them.”
“I want to put my faith in you, not the standards, ” he said to the teachers. “You know what it looks like when a child learns.”
Dr. Cheeseman said the diocese will publish its strategic plan for education in October, and that teachers will be asked for their input.
He said the strategic plan will address the questions of “What can Catholic education look like in five years and how can we change the landscape of education?”
He also issued a challenge to teaching. “I want you to ask for change and to flood with Foundations in Education office with proposals for innovation grants and show how creative you can be.”
Dr. Cheeseman said he strongly believes that the future of Catholic classroom is in “blended learning,” which personalizes instruction and the use of new technology to engage and empower students.”
“Technology doesn’t replace teachers,” he said. “It enables teachers to move from ‘sage on the stage to guides on the side,’ and to be leaders in innovation.
“It’s important for all educators to ask, how can I serve. The work is rarely easy, bit it’s always holy,” he said.
The diocesan school system numbers 9,000 students who attend 26 Catholic schools in grades PreK-12 throughout Fairfield County. The diocese sponsors 20 elementary schools, 5 high schools educating 2,400 students, and one special education school serving students with special needs.
Fifty percent of diocesan schools have received the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence and yearly standardized test results show diocesan elementary students exceeding national averages in math and reading. For more information visit: https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/