The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Excellent Catholic schools must follow document

Published: August 17, 2023   
Theresa Hall

In late July, the principals of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Little Rock gathered at the peaceful Coury House at Subiaco Abbey for our annual retreat. Father Stephen Gadberry inspired us with his words and wisdom. The theme was that the principals are both the salt and the light of their schools. 

Dr. John James from St. Louis University provided us with his expertise on utilizing the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools (NSBECS) on following our mission that is embraced within our Catholic identity and the importance of operational vitality for a school.  

The NSBECS were first published in 2012 to define what criteria would be needed for a Catholic school to be considered excellent and not just excellent in academics. But excellent at all capacities to the school community. The second edition has just been released and includes more resources to allow us to rate an individual school. This NSBECS contains four domains: 

  • Mission and Catholic identity
  • Governance and leadership
  • Academic excellence 
  • Operational vitality

Within those domains are 13 standards and the benchmarks established to excel in the standards. Included are also surveys and a rubric that can be used by schools to get an idea of where the entire school community feels the school stands on meeting the standards and benchmarks. 

The Catholic Schools Office encourages principals to work with their school boards and use the NSBECS surveys and other resources. It is recommended that the schools start with mission and Catholic identity and evaluate their school. It is suggested to start with this domain because our schools are Catholic, and their mission should state this. 

The mission should be understandable and specify why the school exists and replicate the beliefs of the individual school. Any decisions made within the school should be reflected with the mission in mind. 

If the current mission doesn’t describe the school, then the pastor, principal and the school board should begin the process of revising the mission statement. This process can take several months as a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis needs to be completed and include all representatives of the school. 

Dr. James began his discussion on operational vitality with the statement: “This does not and should not fall solely on the principal.” 

Operational vitality focuses on what is necessary for a school to be vital. There are four key elements: 

  • finances 
  • facilities
  • advancement
  • staffing and human resources. 

In the school’s strategic plan, it is necessary to include these key elements to prepare for the future. Using the results of the SWOT analysis, the strategic plan can easily be written including the action plan, implementation costs, who will be responsible and the timeline for the completion. The strategic plan needs to be a working document and updated on a yearly basis.

The mission statement and the strategic plan are essential for the schools to be on their way to becoming an excellent Catholic school. They are also the salt and light for a school.


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