Thursday, June 26, 2008

New MCCS Superintendent: Catholic Schools Will Thrive and Grow

Both RochesterHomePage.net and CatholicCourier.com are reporting that Anne Willkens Leach has been named the new superintendent of schools for the Rochester Catholic Diocese.

Willkens Leach has worn many hats since she began as a teacher at Monroe BOCES #1 in 1979.  She is currently the principal of both Nazareth Hall Middle School and Nazareth Academy.

According to the Catholic Courier story,

"I am delighted at the opportunity to serve as superintendent and to help our Catholic schools thrive," Willkens Leach said in a statement. "I have a deep faith and a strong, strong feeling that Catholic schools must and will thrive and grow."

Thrive?  Grow?  Haven't we heard this and similar songs before? 

You bet we have.  Take, for example, an April 12, 2001 D&C story reporting on the hiring of Sr. Elizabeth Meegan as the new MCCS Superintendent:

"In the last 10 years we've really stabilized the Catholic school system, and we need to take it to the next level," said Rosemary Haller, chairwoman of the Monroe County Catholic School Board ... The diocese oversees 30 schools in Monroe County.

Or a November 12, 2004 DOR Press Release dealing with the Meegan-Clark tuition restructuring plan:

We really believe this [tuition] model will help preserve the treasure of Catholic education for future generations of families in our diocese,” said Bishop Matthew Clark.

Or the same DOR Press Release, this time dealing with the closure of four schools:

Sr. Elizabeth Meegan ... also announced that three schools ... would be merged with neighboring Catholic schools as part of the long-term plan to strengthen the system ... Another school, St. Helen, ... will cease to operate.

"The decision ... is truly in the interest of maintaining a healthy system that will meet the needs of young people in the years to come."

And so I am skeptical about promises of growing and thriving schools.  Given the history of MCCS management blunders that are largely responsible for the closure 19 schools in 7 years and the departure of thousands of children from the system, I believe this skepticism is well justified.

Willkens Leach may just be able to deliver on her promises and actually truly stabilize and ultimately grow the system.  To do that, however, she will have to depart from recent MCCS practice and give parents a real voice in the operation of the system.  Parents are going to be critical to the success or failure of what's left of the MCCS System and they are going to need a genuine sense of ownership before they become her allies and not merely her customers.

Successful business leaders learned this lesson years ago, while most educational management types remain clueless on the topic.  We should learn soon how Willkens Leach will approach this critical subject.

5 comments:

CathParent said...

I don't think the superintendent has very much authority over the schools. Sr. Janice (unless she was lying to us)tried to get the Bishop to reopen some of the schools. She believed in the plans and the people who presented them. The school board is also left out of the decision making process.
If the diocese and the new superintendent want the schools to thrive and grow -which I doubt- she needs to engage Noelle D'Amico and Ed Buttaccio (Holy Trinity), Mike McDougall (Good Shepherd), and Fr. Tom Wheelan (Holy Cross, as well as others -I can't remember all the names- who really do care about the future of the schools.

GSS Parent said...

I completely disagree about Sr. Janice Morgan. We met with her personally following the decision to close our school. Our daughter has a disability and we wanted some assurance that they would continue their committment to her education. Well, saying "we're committed" does not go far unless you demonstrate it. There was none of that. Sr. Morgan talks the talk, but that is about as far as it goes. Did you see her at any of the closing ceremonies?? Did you see the Asst. Superintendent?? I certainly didn't. We are now going to public school....scared, but at least they have no choice but to serve disabled kids!!!

Mike said...

I admit I was trying to cut the lady a bit of slack, CathParent, but I do suspect you are correct.

Without the trust and confidence of the parents the MCCS will soon be history.

Gaining back the trust of the parents from the 13 closed schools is a multi-year project at best. Keeping whatever trust is left among those in the 11 open schools is also a dicey proposition, considering what they just witnessed happening to their neighbors. And I have absolutely no idea how she can get earn enough trust from the parents of potential students for them to risk signing up their kids.

As I've said before, I suspect that the MCCS System has but a short time left. Some of my friends say 4 or 5 years; I believe they're optimistic and I'm giving it 3 at the outside.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bishop will give whatever is left of the Catholic school system back to the parents before he leaves office in 2012 and let them begin the resurrection.

One can only hope - and pray.

Mike said...

GSS Parent,

I've seen the videos on DORSchools and I'm praying for you and your child.

As you may already know, the Bishop, in his final rejection letter to Holy Cross, wrote, "We have found a seat for every pupil that wants one."

What a load of sanctimonious, self-serving crap!

CathParent said...

GSS Parent:
I can't even imagine what your family has gone through this year. Your family has been our prayers since I saw the story about your daughter on the news. I feared from the start that they wouldn't accommodate you without making you jump through hoops. I hoped otherwise, but I've lived in the DOR my whole life and had no illusions.
One thing we have tried to do throughout this mess is show our children how lucky they are. We have several good options. Nothing will be the same, but at least we have options. I used your daughter and the city school children as examples of those with limited options that the diocese was turning their backs on. My fifth grader is having a hard time understanding how the Bishop can ignore the pain he is causing. I hope my children learn from all of this, and when they become adults they don't lose sight of the little people when making decisions about the big picture.
It's really sad to have to use the Bishop as an example of how NOT to act.