BRIDGEPORT—I will never forget the excitement I felt as a teacher and principal when a new school year started. As a teacher, I remember standing in my classroom and getting things ready, all the time thinking about the great things the year had in store for my students and me. As a principal, I would walk the school building and grounds and as I paused to watch students doing their preseason athletic practices, feeling a surge of pride for what the year would bring both in the classroom and on the field. When I left the school building and moved to diocesan level administration almost ten years ago, I rarely felt that annual sense of newness and renewal.
Don’t get me wrong, the life of a diocesan school administrator is exciting and invigorating. We enjoy watching our students, teachers and school administrators experience the joy of a new year. That being said, we rarely get the full experience, as the administrative offices of a diocese are not much different in September than they are in June or July. The sense of newness and rejuvenation found in a school building that is bustling with new and returning students and staff just does not exist in a central administrative building. That is, until this year.
This September I had the opportunity to present to the Catholic Center administration and staff to fill them in on the many new and exciting educational programs being implemented throughout our diocesan school system. As I prepared for the meeting, I felt that resurgence of enthusiasm for the start of a new school year that normally alludes me. When I discussed changes such as our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) initiatives, new multiage school, the roll-out of personalized learning, new classical education program and developing programs for students with special needs, I could sense the excitement of everyone else in the room. As I walked around the building after the meeting and was stopped in the hall to discuss the programs, I could truly sense the joy and renewal people felt as they learned about the paradigm shift our schools were experiencing. The Catholic Center was abuzz.
That feeling was reinforced as I visited schools, participated in ribbon cuttings and blessings and met with students and teachers whose sense of excitement for change was palpable. Our re-imagination of what Catholic schools could and should be was coming to life and the response was better than I could have imagined! And now, as teachers share what they are discovering in their classrooms and as the personalized learning leadership team shares the results of how these programs are changing the trajectory of student learning in such a positive way, I can’t help but feel excited for what the future holds for our schools and our students.
What is at the root of all this excitement in our schools, teachers, students and even at the diocesan Catholic Center? I believe it is that we have made a conscious and intentional effort to stay true to our mission and Catholic identity and it is paying off. We have committed ourselves to keeping kids at the center, to recognize that every student is created in the image and likeness of God and that each has been given unique gifts and talents. Respecting the inherent dignity of each child, it is our responsibility as Catholic educators to recognize those differences and allow them to inform how we teach. And while I am confident that our Catholic school teachers have always believed this and sought to meet this challenge, they are now being given the tools and support they need and the freedom and permission to be bold in their innovation, which will allow them to meet that challenge in new and creative ways.
This year we have worked hard in our schools to marry what we have traditionally done very well with the innovative practices that technology allows in order to transform the paradigm of education in Catholic schools. That will be very evident to you as you read the articles on Catholic Schools posted on the website this week. I believe that if we keep the student at the center of how we do things and Christ at the center of why we do them, the excitement has just begun!
(By Dr. Steven F. Cheeseman, Superintendent of Schools, SCheeseman@diobpt.org)