On Aug. 12, thousands of Catholic school children within the Diocese of Orlando will make their way back to the classrooms for the start of the new school year. While the first day of school is an exciting time for most students, for the children at four diocesan schools, it promises to be especially memorable this year as their schools embark on a new adventure in education as Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) academies.
Lourdes Academy and Basilica of St. Paul, both in Daytona Beach; St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando; and Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Kissimmee are the newest schools to operate through the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program, a 20-year-old initiative developed by the university to provide the best Catholic education possible to under-served communities. Notre Dame also operates academies in Tucson, Az. and Tampa.
To prepare for this venture, 81 faculty, administrators and pastors from the schools, as well as leaders Jacquelyn Flanigan, associate superintendent for Professional Development, and Joseph Belinski, School Planning director, from the Office of Schools, participated in a four-day Summer Institute, June 16-19, at Notre Dame University. In addition to the daily celebration of Mass, the institute featured breakout sessions covering the pillars of the program – such as strengthening Catholic identity, enhanced leadership, team building, curriculum and instruction, and marketing.
“Each of the school communities and that includes the leadership team of the pastor and principal, walked away from that kick-off week of their new journey, redefining themselves,” said Henry Fortier, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese. “The communities are not going to change from what they have been doing, because what they have been doing is providing a quality education rooted in the Gospel teachings and bringing the light of Christ to all they encounter.”
“This partnership with ACE and ACE Academy Schools is only going to help them serve the children even better than they have because they are helping the communities root themselves more deeply in their faith, recommit to nothing but absolute excellence for the children in every area and providing them with intensive support and resources.”
“It was four days of very peaceful, very collaborative types of activities and meetings,” said Gloria Del Orbe, principal of Holy Redeemer Catholic School. “They had team building activities; we had time to reflect as a faculty; we came up with a commitment for our school.
“Our faculty is so open to new ideas, and new ways of coming together and working on instructional strategies, analyzing our student data for their achievement,” she continued. “We are on the right track, but this is just going to make us stronger. I look forward to building on our strengths.”
Two teaching and learning specialists from Notre Dame University will be on-site to assist the Ace Academies in the Diocese of Orlando. One specialist per two schools will focus on coaching teachers and supporting principals in classroom instruction and improvement, as well as mission effectiveness at their schools.
This program is all about the children,” Flanigan said. “Their motto is ‘Our Goals: College. Heaven.’ The children are going to realize that this is something they can achieve.”
“Often times in disadvantaged populations, the idea that they could get to college is a dream for the children, and the expense, the process is so overwhelming for parents, especially for immigrant parents,” she continued. “This program shows them it is a real possibility. It is a wonderfully rich Catholic tradition and approach that provides the strategies that are ultimately going to benefit these children.”
“Notre Dame is so positive about our school,” Del Orbe said. “I see this as a support for advancement, for instruction. Their philosophy goes hand-in-hand with what we believe in.”