BROOKFIELD– Bishop Caggiano introduced a plan for the transition of St. Joseph School of Brookfield from a traditional classroom approach to a new “blended learning” model at a meeting with parents tonight concerning the future of the school.
He said that the new model, which would be rolled out next September, would make it possible to keep St. Joseph’s doors open by reducing costs and creating an innovative path to learning.
“I believe there is a path forward to preserve Catholic education here at St. Joseph’s,” he said to applause from the parents who expressed an interest in the plan.
While many of the more than 150 people in attendance at St. Joseph Church came expecting to hear that the bishop would close the school, the bishop enlisted their support for the individualized learning plan.
“I didn’t come to announce a decision but to give a choice,” the bishop said in response to his much anticipated talk. “We have an opportunity to create something new, but there is much work to do and you and I need to work together.”
The bishop took more than an hour of questions from parents who asked about a wide range of issues including the faculty, measures for student achievement,how students would be grouped, and the level of support that will be provided by the diocese.
He said the personalized learning model is “an alternative that is innovative, maybe even transformational,” and could be a model for other schools going forward in the diocese.
The Bishop announced plans for a taskforce to include parents, teachers and school leaders including a representative from Immaculate High School to explore the concept and determine if they are willing to move forward.
“We don’t need to create a new model, it already exists,” he said, noting that others schools around the country have adopted the personalized learning approach.
The taskforce will work over the next five weeks to develop a plan, and will report to parents on a weekly basis.
“I have spent the lion’s share of my episcopal ministry trying to preserve Catholic education. I’m committed to openness and transparency, and the community needs to know the facts,” he said.
The Bishop said he is working to identify a major donor to raise the more than $250,000 that will be necessary help introduce the new model, but he also needs the buy-in of parents to move forward..
He began his presentation by telling parents that the diocese can’t sustain the existing school as it’s presently structured.
The school of 154 students has faced enrollment challenges and mounting financial debt. This year it is projecting a deficit of $200,000 and total accumulated debt of over $1.2 million over the past eight years, he said.
He told parents that long-term demographics for Brookfield show a trend toward declining school age populations across the board for both public and private schools.
Diocesan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Cheeseman further explained the “Multi-age blended learning” concept to parents.
“In this model, you don’t educate by age but by stage,” said Dr. Cheeseman, who explained that each student would have an individualized learning plan and develop a learning portfolio.Rather than individual grades, students meet in small group cohorts that blend students of different ages together.
He said that the learning model has its roots in the one-room schoolhouse but has been re-ignited by the computer technology now available to students.
“Learning is fluid and flexible based on ability of students,” said Dr. Cheeseman who said parents will receive emails with profiles of successful multi-age models schools across the nation.
He said that each child will be measured against diocesan standards, but he fully expects that many will exceed current standards based on the individualized learning approach.
Conversion to the Multi-Age model will require an investment in technology and re-training of teachers to work with the new model.
The Bishop said he has asked for support from Foundations in Education, the newly created diocesan Foundation that funds students scholarships, professional development and innovation in schools.
“Foundations in Education is designed to support innovation, and this new model clearly has implications for education across the diocese,” he said.
The Bishop said that if parents decide to enroll their children in another Catholic school, the staff will work to create a transition plan and ensure a welcoming transition. There are five Catholic schools within 12 minutes of St. Joseph’s.
The school has set up a hotline for specific questions. Parents can call at any time at 203-209-2894.
Saint Joseph School is located 5 Obtuse Hill Rd. Brookfield, CT 06804 on the grounds of St. Joseph Parish. For information call 203- 775-2774. Visit the website: http://www.sjsbrookfield.org/