Off To An Excellent Year

BRIDGEPORT—Excited voices filled the air, calling to friends, meeting new co-workers, sharing news of the summer and taking the inevitable group selfies (“us-ies”?) on the steps of Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport. Teachers, administrators and staff were gathering for the second annual Catholic School Convocation to kick off the new school year.

“The Lord has called us back to the ministry we share,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in welcoming teachers to the 9 am Mass opening the convocation on August 28, the Feast of St. Augustine. The Mass was enriched by the voices of the Kolbe Cathedral High School Choir, directed by Joe Elbertson.

The Mass was both a celebration and an acknowledgment of a harsh reality. In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus denounced the Pharisees as frauds and blind guides. “Jesus did not mince words,” said the bishop, calling perpetrators of the latest child abuse scandal “scandalous, criminal, diabolical predators.”

Telling the Catholic educators, “We need to seek the renewal of the Holy Spirit,” the bishop held out a path to hope during this crisis, which has shaken the faith of so many. “St. Augustine wrote that hope gives birth to two beautiful daughters: anger and courage. Our anger can help us strive to be heroic witnesses to our faith. Be women and men of faith in class, on the playground, in the lunchroom.

“In this moment, take a step back and ask the Holy Spirit to make us heroic witnesses to Jesus Christ. Despite the tears and sorrow in our hearts, strive for greater conversion to holiness. Show the world that Christ is alive in this world. Be a people of hope.”

The response to the Offertory Petitions was “Lord, teach us to serve with an open heart.”

Following the Mass and a short break, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Cheeseman addressed the educators. “We are raising the next generation of Christian leaders,” he said. “We must inform their faith and inform their minds. We must transform the way they see the world and the way they see people and make them missionary disciples.”

In making the introduction to the convocation’s keynote speaker, he added, “We are called to a sacred duty to educate each child to the maximum of his or her ability.”

The convocation’s keynote address was given by Father Nate Wills, CSC, who spoke to the assembly on new and innovative ways to bring education alive through the Personalized Learning Initiative being introduced in six pilot schools this semester. Father Wills holds a double major in theology and computer applications from the University of Notre Dame. He completed his M.Ed from Notre Dame and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research includes blended and personalized learning and innovative uses of technology in the classroom.

“Just having technology in the classroom is not a good in and of itself,” he made clear. Instead, “technology allows and students to map out a learning trajectory along a path, gives students some control of time, path and pace, and gives teachers a clear idea of where each student is in his or her learning,” allowing teachers to see which students are moving ahead quickly and where more time and attention may be needed.

“The most important person in the classroom is the teacher. Technology assists the teacher,” he said. “It allows teachers to meet all learners at their own rate.”

The Personalized Learning Initiative, which will be rolled out at all elementary schools over the next three years, will start this fall with pilot programs set for Assumption School in Fairfield, St. Gregory the Great School in Danbury, Holy Trinity Catholic Academy in Shelton, the Upper School at the Catholic Academy of Stamford, Our Lady of Fatima School in Wilton, and at the new multiage school, St. Joseph Catholic Academy in Brookfield.

Associate Superintendent Stacie Stueber wrapped up the convocation. “You are shaping the future in so many ways,” she said. “We’re off to an excellent school year!”