“The construction paper is hung, the supplies are out and we’re just standing at the door waiting for the children to come in so that we can welcome them, embrace them and spend an entire year teaching them that God loves them, that we love them,” said archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Michael Deegan. “We’ve got a great academic program to provide them over the course of the next year.”
Under the umbrella of Catholic Identity, all elementary and high schools will be engaged in Eucharistic Renewal, Deegan said. Programs and plans are crafted to highlight “the sanctity and the sacredness of the Eucharist.”
Deegan cited, as examples, increasing visits to the Blessed Sacrament, participation in Benediction and Eucharistic Adoration, as well as Eucharistic processions among the community with school children and parish religious education students participating.
“All of the focus on Eucharistic Renewal is embedded in our Catholic Identity instruction and curriculum.”
A relic of Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teen who died of leukemia age 15 in 2006 and was beatified in 2020 by Pope Francis, will be made available to schools this school year.
A computer whiz who centered his life on the Eucharist, the young man was known for using social media to spread the Good News and to document Eucharistic miracles.
This October, a high school Life and Leadership day will be held to focus on the Respect Life curriculum.
In the academic realm, a new special education program is being launched in elementary schools across the archdiocese. Student support coordinators will be deployed throughout the school system. “There will be dozens of them,” Deegan said. Their task is to work with principals, teachers and students to focus on the children “who are not performing as we hoped they would.”
Among the data used would be from standardized testing. Student support coordinators will be overseen by the associate superintendent for teaching and learning.
“These would be not just for special ed kids,” but also for children who have experienced some learning loss because of Covid, Deegan said.
“Although our system test score numbers are very good, we clearly have children who were adversely impacted by the pandemic.” Student support coordinators will work with children who are not at grade level, are struggling and need extra help, support and resources.
“All of this is being funded by government federal stimulus money as a result of Covid,” Deegan said.
“We are all very, very excited, with wonderful anticipation over the opening of school this September,” Deegan said. “We have accomplished a great deal over the last several years in the midst of the Covid pandemic. We’ve emerged on the other side of that stronger, with a greater level of resolve and zeal.
“Our schools did an exemplary job—a job that was recognized nationally as the gold standard of how schools and school systems should be run.”
The Superintendent of Schools office will continue to monitor Covid numbers, working closely with state and local health agencies. “Our Health and Safety Task Force still is at work. Our Covid Response Team is still in place. As we have in the past, we will respond to whatever we see and the government sees are the trends and the surges, which we monitor on a daily basis.”
A published Catholic School Reopening Plan will be in the hands of those in the schools and school communities before school opens.
By the time school concluded last year, “all of the Covid-related restrictions” had been lifted, Deegan said. “At this point, we see that our schools will reopen in September with very few—if any—requirements.”
There will be no mask mandate. “That will be left up to the individual family,” Deegan said. The Superintendent of Schools Office has strongly encouraged but never mandated vaccinations of students. “That is a parental decision, not a school decision.”
“We, of course, having emerged on the other side are exceedingly conscious of making sure that our children continue to practice good hygiene,” Deegan said.
Parents are aware, he said, that if their children are ill, they should test them. The Superintendent of Schools Office has “tens of thousands of home testing kits that parents have and will continue to receive from us.”
If a positive case is reported, “we will mobilize the Covid Response Team that will actively ensure that we reduce the impact of that positive case on the rest of the school community,” Deegan said.
As the new school year begins, there are no plans to conduct remote or hybrid learning. In January, during a “significant post-holiday” Covid spike, “some strategic activation of remote learning” was allowed in some of the schools on a case-by-case basis. “It wasn’t system-wide,” Deegan said. “We have not had to do that from even before the springtime began.”
That, he said, illustrates “the versatility that we have in terms of what we are able to do, and what we are able to mobilize and activate, if we need to.”
Millions have been spent on improvements in the past two years, ventilation in the school system and classrooms specifically, Deegan said. “There have been some improvements and modifications over the course of the summer in many of our schools to improve the quality of ventilation in our schools.” HEPA filters and HEPA units have either been updated or replaced, he said.
“There’s a lot of attention being given to any and all mitigations that are available to us, we are using and employing.”
The superintendent of schools has sage advice and high hopes for students after the first bell rings. He wants them to have fun and to enjoy their classmates, their teachers and learning.
“Our goal is not to get our students into Harvard, but to get them into heaven by way of Harvard.”
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