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Catholic School Principals Scrambling, Looking for Support

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Many Catholic school principals are struggling to keep up with the myriad financial and administrative demands placed on them, according to a new report, which recommends that they be given more focused duties—and that they form a nationwide association to press their policy concerns.

Those findings are included in a survey of about 1,700 Catholic primary school principals, which was directed by the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana. The results of the survey are soon to be released by Information Age Publishing, program officials say.

Today, many Catholic principals are forced to "exercise a type of triage over their jobs, attending to what is urgent right now and often neglecting strategic goals and long-term plans," according to a summary of the findings that accompany the survey. While administrators "are dedicated and faith-filled," the authors say, "they are often frustrated and overwhelmed in their ministerial positions. If they are to continue to succeed in their important roles, they will require support from church leadership and serious, ongoing professional development, designed to meet their growing and changing needs."

The principals reported that the issues they are most focused on in their schools are financial management and marketing, followed by promoting Catholic identity, enrollment management, and long-range planning. The emphasis on finances and marketing is almost certainly a reflection of the pressures that principals feel to attract new students and families, explained Rev. Ronald J. Nuzzi, senior director of the Remick leadership program, who worked with other faculty on the report. The Remick leadership program provides coursework and degree programs for aspiring Catholic school administrators. Many of its students are teachers who hope to move into administrative positions, Nuzzi said.

When asked about the biggest area of need or challenge they faced, the greatest number of principlals, 1,030, said enrollment, followed by financial management, 930; development, 463; marketing, 277; capital improvements, 229; maintaining affordability, 194; technology, 186; Catholic identity, 147; academic quality, 124; and long-range planning, 99.

Principals end up having to juggle a range of activities, the survey found, which range from fundraising and encouraging alumni to become more involved with the school to overseeing renovations of aging buildings, to trying to explain the value of a Catholic education at a time when many potential families may be concerned about the costs of private school tuition.

The report offers a series of recommendations, one of which is the creation of a national association of Catholic primary schools principals, to advocate for those administrators' needs and help them speak with a more unified voice on policy issues. Such advocacy, the authors say, could include taking positions on vouchers, tuition tax credits, or overall school choice, where too often, "Catholic school principals are silent." Another recommendation is to change how Catholic schools are governed, so that many financial and development duties are put "in the hands of a properly educated advancement professional, not an educator." In addition, the authors see a need for a more organized and comprehensive professional development system for Catholic school principals.

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