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Presidents of Area Catholic Education Systems Announce Advancements and Next Steps for CatholicLink

From St. Norbert College, May 17, 2016
by Mike Counter, mike.counter@snc.edu, 920-403-3089

Today, the leaders of CatholicLink, including GRACE president Kim Desotell, Notre Dame Academy president Kevin Shaw, and St. Norbert College president Thomas Kunkel announced the outcomes of the first year of collaboration under the partnership referred to as CatholicLink. The group also unveiled its next steps.

The announcement included news surrounding the planning of a new center for innovative Catholic school leadership; ways to honor alumni from all three organizations; and joint grant seeking for training and student engagement.
In addition, the leaders of CatholicLink showcased ways they are collaborating to further advance the outcomes of Catholic education for students.

Last year the group announced the formation as well as partnership agreements including a minimum of 50 percent tuition discount for all employees at all CatholicLink schools; grants for St. Norbert College teacher education majors who commit to GRACE or Notre Dame upon graduating and serving for three years; and shared expertise in areas such as admissions, marketing, and alumni relations.

"This morning, our three Catholic educational organizations are pleased to announce that we have continued the commitment we made to join forces so to grow and enhance Catholic education in the Greater Green Bay area from early childhood through college," said Kim Desotell, president of GRACE. To illustrate that commitment, the group shared new initiatives for students, alumni and Catholic school educators.

A Unique Alumni Society and Joint Identity

The group announced a new way to recognize those who have committed to Green Bay area Catholic education from elementary school through college.

"We are creating a unique alumni society--and calling it the CatholicLink Society, to recognize those who were steadfast in their Greater Green Bay area Catholic education," said Shaw. "We will honor these graduates and host opportunities for them to engage with today's Catholic institutions and fellow graduates. Over time, we hope this group will network with fellow alumni, mentor current students, and help us visualize tomorrow's world-class Catholic education."

CatholicLink also unveiled a logo that will represent the partnership. It reflects the colors of the three organizations; showcases three intertwining links that reflect the three groups and the holy trinity; and an academic crest and the branch of knowledge encasing the shield. The year 2014 is included as the year CatholicLink was first established.

"Our three institutions are proud to combine our history, traditions, and missions to further our quest for world-class Catholic education right here in Greater Green Bay," said Shaw. "Now, when you see this image you will know that we are collectively behind initiatives that advance our common goals."

Center for Innovative Catholic School Leadership

While in its early inception, the partnership also announced it is appointing a task force to explore a joint CatholicLink center that will advance the leadership development of Catholic school staff, faculty and administrators. This center will:

1. Offer professional development for teachers.
2. Provide leadership development for Catholic school principals and future principals who are either rising teachers or CEOs entering academic leadership.
3. Conduct research and publish best practices within Catholic education.
4. Serve as a resource for classical Catholic education.

The task force will be led by Dr. Tynisha Meidl, co-chair of teacher education and associate professor of teacher education at St. Norbert College. The location, operating budget, and programming are to be determined based on the work of the CatholicLink task force. The potential for such a center would be unique to this area, perhaps even unique nationally, as a source to advance Catholic education educators, administrators, research, and best practices.

Grants and Funding

St. Norbert College president Thomas Kunkel shared at the event that CatholicLink is committing to joint grant-seeking to positively impact Catholic schools. "We already have two early successes," he said.

First, CatholicLink has just been awarded a grant from the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Green Bay to host a graduate level course for principals and lead teachers serving in the CatholicLink schools. The course will examine the application of assessment techniques to develop, improve, and measure learning in catholic schools. The course will be taught by St. Norbert College faculty.

The group also obtained federal support for an AmeriCorps partnership coordinator position, hosted by St. Norbert College's Sturzl Center for Community Service and Learning and assigned to a GRACE school--St. Thomas More Catholic School which serves a predominately Hispanic student population. This position will create a program that connects volunteers and resources from St. Norbert and the Green Bay community to the resources and opportunities at St. Thomas More School.

"We have a shared interest in growing our schools, and furthering Catholic education. This, we believe, is just the beginning of what we'll do together," added Kunkel.

"By coming together in dialogue--we are finding valuable ways to help one another provide exceptional faith-based educational experiences for our students. We are working to collaborate with our parishes and the Diocese of Green Bay, as well as in powerful ways to honor our legacy and leverage church leadership," said Desotell. "We will indeed continue to partner to create all kinds of opportunities."

Outcome of Ongoing Efforts

Last June, CatholicLink leaders first announced their joint commitment and announced key initiatives that they would pursue in 2015-16.

One of last year's announcements, as part of CatholicLink's objective to attract and retain the best faculty and staff at all of the organizations, was that employees would now receive at least a 50 percent tuition waiver for their children to attend any of the three organizations--regardless by which of the three they are employed.

"We are pleased to report that this effort alone has increased enrollment from employee families at all three of our organizations. For example, we anticipate it will double the number of Notre Dame Academy students attending St. Norbert for next year from last year," added Desotell.

To further attract exceptional teaching talent, St. Norbert College education majors who teach in a GRACE school or Notre Dame Academy for a minimum of three years after graduating will receive a $5,000 grant after completing the three-year commitment. Principals report this has played a role in helping attract recent St. Norbert graduates into Catholic schools. Four teachers were recognized today for being on track for this grant.

The group also shared that they are standing by their commitment to share expertise in admissions, marketing, fundraising, alumni relations, athletics, and professional education.

As an example, CatholicLink leaders meet monthly and have toured their collective sites to witness best practices in action. They collaborate on admission activities, create joint communication plans, and assess ways of bringing combined alumni together in meaningful ways.

The outcome of this collaboration is resulting in formal and informal opportunities to advance Catholic education--for example, GRACE utilized St. Norbert College students as conversation partners with GRACE students to create more opportunity for practicing their foreign language skills. Also, St. Norbert College education majors have become a part of GRACE's before and after- school programs, as math tutors, or to help create extended reading-lab experiences. The schools also collaborate to have GRACE's band program participate in clinics at both Notre Dame Academy and St. Norbert College.

The GRACE system has 10 schools that provide excellence in 3k-8th grade education and serves the 23 Catholic parishes within the Greater Green Bay community. GRACE schools range in offerings and locations, and each has its own distinct history, focus, and parish connections. GRACE is the largest Catholic school system in the state of Wisconsin.

Notre Dame Academy is a college preparatory high school in the Catholic tradition founded by the Norbertine order, sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, and the Diocese of Green Bay. Notre Dame Academy's high-caliber educational community is focused on outstanding learning and creating a lifetime of opportunity for all students.

The only Norbertine college in the world, St. Norbert is a four-year, Catholic liberal arts college, devoted to the Norbertine traditions of community, prayer, and service to others. Founded in 1898 by Abbot Bernard Pennings, the residential campus today serves approximately 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the United States and more than 30 countries.