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Posted February 5, 2010

Notre Dame, Tucson Diocese form partnership
to help Catholic schools

By Bern Zovistoski
Catholic News Service

TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) -- The University of Notre Dame and the Diocese of Tucson have agreed to designate three parish schools in Tucson as the nation's first Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education Academy Schools.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas and Notre Dame Alliance for Catholic Education officials announced the plan Jan. 29 at the Bishop Moreno Pastoral Center in Tucson.

"This is an exciting moment," Bishop Kicanas said. "It's a great joy to have this new partnership to enhance and foster the formation of our young people ... to strengthen our schools and community involvement."

The five-year partnership with the Alliance for Catholic Education -- beginning with the 2010-11 school year -- aims to achieve comprehensive excellence in academics and school administration. It emphasizes enhancing school leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional development, financial management, marketing and Catholic identity.

Above all else, the bishop said, the goal of the program is "to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to underserved communities."

The initiative is led at Notre Dame by Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora, the Alliance for Catholic Education's director of university-school partnerships. Father Corpora is a former pastor with nearly 20 years experience in parishes and schools serving Latinos.

During the press conference, he said he was equally excited about the initiative and said it came about after some of the findings about Hispanics and Catholic schools were released by a Notre Dame-commissioned task force. The task force report, published in December, noted that 70 percent of the nation's population under 35 is Latino, but only 3 percent are educated in Catholic schools.

The Catholic School Advantage campaign -- launched when the report was released -- aims to enroll 1 million Hispanic students in Catholic schools by 2020.

Father Corpora said the goal is also to have Alliance for Catholic Education academies across the nation.

"Tucson is the perfect place to start this program," he added.

The alliance will provide these schools with expertise and resources that include an instructional coach for teachers, on-site support for principals and teachers from Notre Dame faculty and staff and a director of marketing and development who will be responsible for efforts to boost enrollment and raise funds for tuition scholarships.

A regional school board that will include the pastors and representatives of the schools will be responsible for the oversight of the schools' academic, administrative and financial operations.

The three schools' principals and faculty members will spend time at the Notre Dame campus this summer preparing to implement the program.

Notre Dame's alliance selected the Tucson three schools -- St. Ambrose, St. John the Evangelist and Santa Cruz -- after a comprehensive feasibility study showed strong support for the partnership, the schools' capacity to serve area students effectively and opportunities for providing tuition scholarships created by Arizona's private school tax credit.

Notre Dame's efforts in the partnership are funded through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation and are supported by the university and other partners.

The three schools have a combined enrollment of 598 students and on average Hispanics make up about 86 percent of the student population.

The Alliance for Catholic Education and the diocese have had a partnership since 2001 through the alliance's Serving Through Teaching Program, in which participants spend two summers studying for a master's degree in education at Notre Dame and two school years teaching in under-resourced Catholic schools across the country.

Seven teachers in the Serving Through Teaching Program are currently teaching in four parish schools in Tucson.

"This partnership has the potential to make an important difference in the lives of hundreds of families," said Rachel Moreno, a Tucson native and current resident who is a faculty member in Notre Dame's alliance program and advisor to its academies project.