By Diana Sims Snider of The Catholic Virginian

Along with the steady buzz of crickets chirping a new end-of-summer sound can now be heard throughout the Diocese: the zipping of supply-laden school backpacks being readied for the first days of school.

Classes begin Monday, August 21, at the 29 Catholic schools operating within the Diocese. Applications are still being accepted and tuition assistance is available. Contact your local school for a tour or more information.

“Our Catholic schools are busy preparing for another successful school year,” said Office of Catholic Schools Superintendent Ray Honeycutt. “We welcome our new students and families and thank our returning families for the opportunity to share our faith and formation of His greatest gift—the children!”

What is it about Catholic schools that draws parents to sacrifice to send their children to these institutions of the faith? Key for many parents is the desire to nurture their children’s faith. Rev. Dan Beeman, pastor of Holy Trinity, Norfolk, and Vicar for Catholic Mission and Identity for Catholic Education, explores what makes Catholic schools Catholic in this issue of the Catholic Virginian.

Public schools will open by Tuesday, Sept. 5. Catholic parishioners who enroll their children in public schools are also encouraged to take steps to form their children’s faith. In addition to the education parents impart at home, parents are encouraged to register their children – and themselves – for Christian formation courses taking place at their parishes. Now is the time to register for classes that begin this fall. See story.

In addition to their Catholicity, diocesan Catholic schools strive for excellence in education, said Mr. Honeycutt. In fact, the Diocese of Richmond was the first Catholic diocese in the country to be recognized and accredited as a school district by AdvancED, an international accrediting agency, in 2006. This partnership was pursued by the Diocese to ensure a commitment to continuous improvement and excellence for its schools.

In the AdvancED District Accreditation process, the school district – here the diocesan Schools Office – is responsible for ensuring individual schools meet the Standards for Accreditation. The schools are required to complete a thorough self-study every five years which includes an onsite visit by the Quality Assurance Board. The Office of Catholic Schools established the Quality Assurance Board to conduct the external visits as well as to review the ongoing strategic plans developed by each school on a yearly basis.

During this year, 2017-2018, the Diocese will undertake the AdvanceED-required District Five-Year Self-Study. This will be the third external accreditation visit by AdvancED since the first in 2006.

“Each diocesan school continues to work on school-based goals designed to promote continuous improvement as identified in the school’s five-year accreditation study,” Mr. Honeycutt said. “The Office of Catholic Schools will continue to promote goals to address increased enrollment, tuition assistance and increased efforts to promote inclusion for all Catholic students who want to attend one of our schools.”

“Our schools are busy preparing for another successful school year. Our revised Consensus Curriculum – which shifts curriculum from a concepts-heavy focus to a skills-based, action-oriented and measurable focus – is available on the website. Schools are available to discuss the learning options available at each of the schools,” Mr. Honeycutt said.

Another highlight this year will be new and familiar faces filling leadership roles. The Catholic Schools Office has created a new regional associate superintendent for operations and special projects position. Patrick Patterson, principal and head of school at Roanoke Catholic School, will add this assignment to his duties. His area of focus includes schools in the western part of the diocese: Saint Anne Catholic School (Bristol), Saint John Neumann Academy (Blacksburg), Roanoke Catholic School, Sacred Heart (Danville), Holy Cross Regional School (Lynchburg) and Charlottesville Catholic.

Two additional associate administrators have come on board, Kelly Lazzara as associate superintendent for operations, and Angela Allen as associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. See their bios in the story about school leaders.

Several schools have new principals this year: Kelly Taylor, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, Richmond; Cheryl Henig, interim principal at Saint Mary’s Catholic School, Richmond; Mark Zafra, Saint Pius X Catholic School, Norfolk; and Terri Brodeur, Christ The King Catholic School, Norfolk.

The Diocese was also recruiting and interviewing principals for: Star of the Sea and Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School, both of Virginia Beach, and Holy Cross Regional School, Lynchburg.