By Dave Jolivet
FALL RIVER, Mass. — One of the first goals Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., set for himself and the Diocese of Fall River when he arrived here from Newark, N.J. in July of 2014 was to strengthen diocesan schools and make a quality Catholic education available to all who sought it, regardless of financial constraints.
Shortly after he settled in his new home diocese Bishop da Cunha established a Task Force on Schools to study the ins and outs of diocesan schools and to prepare a report of its findings and provide recommendations to address concerns that may exist.
For nearly a year and a half, the task force diligently reviewed all areas involving Catholic eduction in the diocese and presented Bishop da Cunha its report last October.
“The report was widely shared throughout the diocese,” Steve Perla, interim superintendent of diocesan schools told The Anchor. “The report was shared with pastors, principals, heads of schools, and put on the diocesan website. And principals shared the report with their faculties and included it on school websites and pastors were asked to put it on their parish websites.
“The bishop was very clear that this report be transparent and easily accessible to all, including parents of our students.”
After Bishop da Cunha received the task force report, he set out to establish an implementation committee to operationalize the task force’s recommendations. That committee included Perla, with Father David A. Costa, pastor of Sacred Heart and St. Mary’s parishes in North Attleboro, and Dr. Mary Pat Tranter, president of Coyle and Cassidy High School and Middle School in Taunton, serving as co-chairmen, along with nine other committee members.
On January 12 the diocesan Catholic Education Center, including Perla, Sandra Drummey, and Denise Peixoto, assistant superintendents, and the implementation committee held a meeting/training session at St. Ann’s Parish in Raynham. More than 150 individuals coming from all of the diocese’s 22 schools attended.
“Each school was previously asked to establish a planning group to attend the session,” said Perla. “The planning groups were made aware of what the strategic planning process was about, what is expected from them and to clarify any questions they had.”
A three-year strategic planning process for each school was introduced to the planning groups along with a timeline.
“The three-year strategic plan is to develop a successful road map for each of the school’s vitality and long-term sustainability,” explained Perla. “We were very pleased with the positive participation from each of the school groups. People were very engaged, presenting questions and reviewing the plan’s processes and tools.”
Each school’s three-year strategic plan is to be submitted to the Catholic Education Center by June 30. The Catholic Education Center’s leadership team will review each plan and approve it by September 1 to be able to set the plans in motion by October 2017.
Another of the implementation committee’s tasks is to establish a Central School Board of Limited Jurisdiction which will have the authority to make final decisions related to a limited set of issues specifically delegated by the bishop and as permitted by canon law.
“The implementation committee has been reaching out to potential members of the central school board, and we hope to have the board approved by the bishop and in place by March of this year,” said Perla. “Right now we are right on schedule for that date.”
According to the implementation committee’s Governance Overview presented at the January 12 meeting, the central board will consist of the diocesan chancellor, superintendent of schools, clergy from each of the diocese’s five deaneries not directly affiliated with schools, five regional representatives, and five at-large representatives.
At the heart of all the planning, from each of the committees and the School Task Force, are six “domains”: Catholic Identity; Academics; Finance; Market/Enrollment; Capital Needs; and Governance.
Some of the challenges facing the task at hand are rising school costs; decreased enrollment; and difficulty responding to today’s educational challenges because of a shortage of resources, leadership and flexibility.
The implementation committee told the school planning groups, “We cannot afford to take a gradual and incremental approach, and we must think and act differently.”
“We are making great progress,” Perla told The Anchor. “There are some challenges, but for the most part our schools are on the right track and well-positioned to carry on well into the future.”
Perla also praised the participation of diocesan pastors. “I have been absolutely encouraged by their participation,” he said. “They faithfully attend meetings, are active in providing ideas, feedback and questions, and all are very active in participating in the planning process. I give them very high marks.”
To read the School Task Force’s findings and recommendations, visit fallriverdiocese.org.