The University of Notre Dame announced Tuesday it will establish four new Notre Dame ACE Academies in a partnership with the Diocese of Orlando. Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA) are a network of academically excellent, financially sustainable Catholic K-8 schools that operate through the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).
Four diocesan schools—St. Andrew School in Orlando, Holy Redeemer School in Kissimmee, and the Basilica School of St. Paul and Lourdes Academy, both in Daytona Beach—will join the NDAA network of schools on July 1. The announcement was made at an April 7th event by Orlando Bishop John Noonan, diocesan Superintendent of Schools Henry Fortier, and Rodney Pierre-Antoine, the Gary and Barbara Pasquinelli Family Director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies of the University of Notre Dame.
“To me, it’s a beautiful marriage between the Diocese of Orlando and Notre Dame, so that we can continue to advance our schools in areas that need the resources, that need the support, because all of our children deserve the best,” Fortier said.
“Our students will benefit from this partnership with ACE,” Bishop Noonan added. “This ministry is for our young people—for their future.”
The NDAA network of schools was founded in 2010 by ACE to demonstrate what is possible when pastors, bishops, and Catholic institutions of higher education enter into meaningful and lasting partnerships in which all parties have a substantial stake in student success. Currently, there are five Notre Dame ACE Academies, located in the dioceses of Tucson and St. Petersburg.
By designating these four additional schools as NDAA schools, ACE and the Diocese of Orlando seek to sustain long-term, comprehensive excellence through a unique model of Catholic schooling. The NDAA model is built on the three pillars of ACE: forming professional educators, building community, and growing spiritually in the Catholic tradition.
“We enter this partnership with grateful hearts filled with Easter joy, inspired by this season of hope, renewal, and new life. We look forward to supporting Bishop Noonan, Mr. Fortier, and the school communities in their efforts to make God known, loved, and served,” Pierre-Antoine said. “We are eager to help these school communities become centers of excellence in both faith formation and academic achievement.”
The mission of the NDAA initiative is to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to as many children as possible by mobilizing the resources of the University, the diocese, statewide parental choice programs, and local communities. ACE faculty and staff will work closely with the NDAA schools and diocesan leaders in Orlando to strengthen Catholic identity, boost enrollment and enhance school leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional development, financial management, and marketing.
“As principals in Notre Dame ACE Academies, we make root-belief-driven and data-informed decisions,” Heather Boyle, principal of Sacred Heart School in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said. “It is at this pivotal moment of expansion to Orlando that we can continue to live out our mission and root beliefs through expansion. Together, Catholic school teachers and leaders in Tucson, St. Petersburg, and now Orlando will work collaboratively as one growing network to provide the highest quality education to as many children as possible.”
Enrollment gains at the current NDAA schools have been dramatic and they contradict national trends in Catholic schools. Since the NDAA partnership began, NDAA schools in Tucson have increased enrollment by 40%, and in the Diocese of St. Petersburg enrollment has grown 30% since the Notre Dame program began.
Students are experiencing learning gains through the program as well. The existing NDAA schools are closing the achievement gap among many inner-city students. At St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Tucson, for example, students experienced tremendous growth in both math and reading achievement in 2014. On average, each student gained approximately 1.25 years of growth in math and 1.13 years of growth in reading last year.
The schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg are showing similar success. In 2012, students in the fifth grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Pinellas Park were scoring in the 30th percentile in math and the 50th percentile in reading. After two years, now as seventh graders, this same cohort of students is scoring in the 50th percentile in math and the 68th percentile in reading.
“We are excited to kick things off with our new partners and to grow our community of committed professional educators,” Pierre-Antoine said. “Our teachers and principals have demonstrated with zeal that it’s possible to close the achievement gap on the south side of Tucson, in west Tampa, and in Pinellas Park. We’re excited that our new partners in the Diocese of Orlando are just as committed to doing whatever it takes to put every student on the path to college and heaven.”