The Inside Story of the Closing of St. Paul School in Wellesley, MA: Part 2

July 29, 2015

This post is a follow-up to our first post, The Inside Story of the Closing of St. Paul School in Wellesley, Part 1. The Boston Globe wrote an article about the closing today and got a statement from Terry Donilon at the Archdiocese of Boston.  The article repeats the generic statement from the school, “An attempt to secure solid commitments from parents for the upcoming school year was not sufficient.”   We think the reporters covering this story should ask a few more questions of Terry Donilon and the Boston Archdiocese.

Announcements blaming the closing on the parents or implying the blame rests with the parents do not sit well with the parents. The parents were asked to make a commitment of $1,500 by July 15th, and about 65% of the parents did. Fr. Sepe never specified just how many deposits would have to be turned in to make it “fiscally possible” to open in the fall.  Nor were parents informed of what the consequences would be if the parish didn’t receive a sufficient number of deposits. In addition, during the Annual fund raising drive (to celebrate 60 years of Catholic education with a $60K goal), the parents — who, according to the announcement did not commit to the school — raised about $67,000 to be used for the 2015 -2016 school year.  The latest tally of Annual Fund donations is $85,000, the lion’s share of which came from the parent community.  To BCI, parents, and others close to the school, this should be proof enough of commitment.

One might reasonably ask the question, “What will happen to those funds now that the school is closing?”  When asked about these monies in the parent meeting (which occurred on Thursday), BCI has heard several varying recountings of what Fr. Sepe told the assembled parents, neither of which is good. One source reported that Fr. Sepe told the assembled parents this was a donation and would not be subject to return.  Other sources recall Fr. Sepe equivocating and saying that if it was the “understanding and the stipulation” that Annual Fund monies were intended to benefit the school in the 2015-16 school year, then maybe the money would be returned. This answer did not set well with the donors or lawyers in the audience.

The full-time faculty were given contracts on July 9th. It is now known by those involved in the situation that they were at-will contracts, not the binding contracts that have been used in the past. Faculty were then called to the meeting on July 23rd and told there would not be an opening of the school due to lack of parent commitment to the school as noted above.  During this timeframe, positions which had been posted as open positions at St. John School were filled.  So good luck to the faculty!  In addition the school secretary who had to work at the rectory one day a week for the 2014-15 school year had been offered her regular full-time position at St. Paul school for the 2015-16 year, but was also then  terminated.  When she asked if she could work at the rectory in an open two day position, she was told the position had been offered and accepted and thus was no longer open.  A reasonable person might ask, if the future of the school was this uncertain in June and July, whey were these open positions filled by outsiders rather than kept open so those who would lose jobs could potentially fill them?

BCI is told that these are just some of the “shenanigans” that are surfacing in just the few days after the announcement.  In addition, Father Sepe is also on retreat for two weeks, leaving the school closing in the hands of a teacher at the school who has never handled any responsibilities such as this that would require administrative, legal or leadership expertise.

Here you have it. The downfall of a once great Catholic school largely because of missteps and bungled management by the Archdiocese of Boston, yet blamed on others. Meanwhile,here is a short video interview with new schools superintendent, Kathy Mears, telling Catholic TV how hard she works to help Catholic schools.

The St. Pauls situation and others similar to it suggest that Mrs. Mears has her work cut out for her. BCI is now hearing of other Boston-area Catholic schools in decline because of mismanagement by the RCAB. Drop us an email in confidence to pass along details if this is happening in your area.


Boston Catholic Schools Implementing Controversial Common Core Curriculum

May 30, 2013

BCI is getting an increasing number of complaints from Boston Catholics about several important areas lately important to the future of the Boston Archdiocese–pastoral plan execution and Catholic schools. The concerns with changes in the so-called “Catholic” schools under the leadership of Superintendent Mary Grassa O’Neill are so extensive it is difficult to know where to start. For today, we address the tip of the iceberg with the controversial unproven “Common Core” curriculum making its way across the U.S. and in Catholic schools. After you digest what is going on over our next several posts, it will become increasingly clear that there is a big problem.

It is difficult for BCI to even distill all of the problems down to one blog post. You will need to read some of the following articles to get the gist of the problem. That Mary Grassa O’Neill refuses to meet with concerned local parents gives a very clear indication that her leadership must be questioned Consider the following pieces:

Two Moms vs Common Core (Catholic Exchange)

Indiana has become the first state to retreat from the Common Core standards, as Governor Mike Pence has just signed a bill suspending their implementation.

A great deal has been written and spoken about Common Core, but it is worth rehearsing the outlines again. Common Core is a set of math and English standards developed largely with Gates Foundation money and pushed by the Obama administration and the National Governors Association. The standards define what every schoolchild should learn each year, from first grade through twelfth, and the package includes teacher evaluations tied to federally funded tests designed to ensure that schools teach to Common Core.

Over 40 states hurriedly adopted Common Core, some before the standards were even written, in response to the Obama administration’s making more than $4 billion in federal grants conditional on their doing so. Only Texas, Alaska, Virginia, and Nebraska declined. (Minnesota adopted the English but not the math standards.)

Here is my prediction: Indiana is the start of something big.

Just a year ago Common Core was untouchable in Indiana, as in most other places. Common Core had been promoted by conservative governor Mitch Daniels, and the state superintendent of public schools, Tony Bennett, was a rising GOP education star.

How did the bipartisan Common Core “consensus” collapse?

It collapsed because some parents saw that Common Core was actually lowering standards in their children’s schools. And because advocates for Common Core could not answer the questions these parents raised.

In Indiana, the story starts with two Indianapolis moms, Heather Crossin and her friend Erin Tuttle.

In September 2011, Heather suddenly noticed a sharp decline in the math homework her eight-year-old daughter was bringing home from Catholic school.

“Instead of many arithmetic problems, the homework would contain only three or four questions, and two of those would be ‘explain your answer,’” Heather told me. “Like, ‘One bridge is 412 feet long and the other bridge is 206 feet long. Which bridge is longer? How do you know?’”

She found she could not help her daughter answer the latter question: The “right” answer involved heavy quotation from Common Core language. A program designed to encourage thought had ended up encouraging rote memorization not of math but of scripts about math.

Heather was noticing on the ground some of the same things that caused Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram to withhold his approval from the Common Core math standards.

Professor Milgram was the only math content expert on the Validation Committee reviewing the standards, and he concluded that the Common Core standards are, as he told the Texas state legislature, “in large measure a political document that . . . is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high-achieving countries give dramatically better results.”

The Common Core math standards deemphasize performing procedures (solving many similar problems) in favor of attempting to push a deeper cognitive understanding — e.g., asking questions like “How do you know?”

In fact, according to a scholarly 2011 content analysis published in Education Researcher by Andrew Porter and colleagues, the Common Core math standards bear little resemblance to the national curriculum standards in countries with high-achieving math students: “Top-achieving countries for which we had content standards,” these scholars note, “put a greater emphasis on [the category] ‘perform procedures’ than do the U.S. Common Core standards.”

So why was this new, unvalidated math approach suddenly appearing in Heather’s little corner of the world, and at a Catholic school?

Heather was not alone in questioning the new approach. So many parents at the school complained that the principal convened a meeting. He brought in the saleswoman from the Pearson textbook company to sell the parents. “She told us we were all so very, very lucky, because our children were using one of the very first Common Core–aligned textbooks in the country,” says Heather.

But the parents weren’t buying what the Pearson lady was selling.

“Eventually,” Heather recalled, “our principal just threw his hands up in the air and said, ‘I know parents don’t like this type of math but we have to teach it that way, because the new state assessment tests are going to use these standards.’”

That’s the first time Heather had heard that Indiana had replaced its well-regarded state tests, ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress–Plus) in favor of a brand-new federally funded set of assessments keyed to Common Core. “I thought I was a fairly informed person, and I was shocked that a big shift in control had happened and I hadn’t the slightest idea,” she says.

Erin Tuttle says she noticed the change in the math homework at about the same time as Heather, and she also noticed that her child was bringing home a lot fewer novels and more “Time magazine for kids” — a reflection of the English standards’ emphasis on “informational texts” rather than literature.

These standards are designed not to produce well-educated citizens but to prepare students to enter community colleges and lower-level jobs. All students, not just non-college-material students, are going to be taught to this lower standard.

I want to pause and highlight the significance of Heather and Erin’s testimony. Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle did not get involved in opposing Common Core because of anything Michelle Malkin or Glenn Beck said to rile them up, but because of what they saw happening in their own children’s Catholic school. When experts or politicians said that Common Core would not lead to a surrender of local control over curriculum, Heather and Erin knew better. (Ironically, the leverage in Indiana was Tony Bennett’s school-choice program, which made state vouchers available to religious schools, but only if they adopted state tests — which were later quietly switched from ISTEP to the untried Common Core assessments.)

A STEALTH CAMPAIGN TO BYPASS PARENTS

At first Heather thought maybe her ignorance of Common Core was her fault. Maybe, with her kids (as she imagined) safely ensconced in good Catholic schools, she hadn’t paid attention.

That’s when she and Erin started contacting people — “and we found out something more shocking: Nobody had any idea,” Heather told me.

The same has happened in Boston. You have to read the rest of the above article here. Then read the following piece:

Saving the Uncommon Core of Catholic Education (Crisis Magazine, May 17, 2013)

As Catholic institutions have come under unprecedented pressure from government to trim their religious and social mission, it seems incredible that Catholic educators would consider voluntarily placing their schools under an onerous federal yoke. But that incongruous prospect may be nearing reality as over one hundred Catholic dioceses have signed onto the Common Core Standards Initiative (CC).

There is no mistaking what the Common Core is all about. Developed by handpicked, federally funded nonprofits and two national associations of state executives, the Common Core is an attempt by a subset of education “experts” to write k-12 standards and, ultimately, dictate curricula that will foster a uniform educational experience in the United States. The justification for this nationalization, according to CCSI advocates, is to create a generation of college- and career-ready students who can compete in a global economy.

The Obama Administration, naturally enough, is deeply enamored of the idea of removing local authority over classroom content and shifting it to centralized bureaucracies, much as it has done with the U.S. economy and health care. Equally naturally, some politically connected big businesses champion the Common Core, eyeing the practical benefits of gearing the nation’s classrooms to be trade schools for their vision of the world’s future workforce.

And at bottom, the Common Core embraces essentially a trade-school mentality. Even in English class—where the heart of humanist education should beat most strongly—the curriculum is to be redesigned to offer less classic literature and more nonfiction “informational texts.” After all, if a student is unlikely to encounter Paradise Lost in his future job, why waste time on it now? Better to focus on the technical manuals or government documents that he might grapple with in the corporate world.

Common Core Validation Committee member Sandra Stotsky, perhaps the nation’s premier expert on English language arts (ELA) standards, refused to sign off on the Common Core standards because they “weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” And the math standards are similarly deficient. Stanford mathematics professor James Milgram concluded that it is “almost a joke to think students [who master the Common Core] would be ready for math at a university.”

Why Catholic schools, which have a centuries-old vision of the purpose of education, and a track record only the most elite secular institutions can match, should embrace this olive-drab doctrine of uniformity and utilitarianism is not at all clear…

Now, more than ever, is the time to embrace classical Catholic education and shun secular fads like the Common Core.

In addition to these articles, also read:

The Great Education Power Grab

Propagandizing the Plebs: The Common Core Curriculum Meets The GED

The dismissive behavior and attitude of Mary Grassa O’Neill’s regional superintendents at a recent meeting of parents concerned about the rollout of Common Core in the Boston Catholic Schools will be the topic of a future post. BCI has already gotten an earful on this, but any parents familiar with the concerns can post comments below.


Diocesan Deception in Catholic Schools Admission Policy?

November 10, 2010

We are getting mixed requests from our readers in the past few days—some want us to keep digging in on the fracas over the new direction for fund-raising and development, while some want us to address what they view as time-critical situations.

After prayerful consideration, today we take a big chance by dipping our toe in the water in an area we have stayed away from up to now.  That is the Catholic Schools Admission Policy whose draft is undergoing final review.  We are focusing not on the policy itself but rather on whether the general pattern of diocesan deception we have been reporting on previously might, coincidentally, happen to apply in the setting of this policy as well. If so, perhaps a better policy will emerge if any content in the policy that is even perceived as misleading is modified.

Some readers who appreciate that we have stayed away from such topics might have issues with today’s post.  We provide you with the facts and two points where it appears that people reading this draft policy might be misled or deceived.  You will need to decide.

Background and Facts

As many readers may recall, almost six months ago to the day, St. Paul School in Hingham made national news for deciding to deny admission at their Catholic elementary school to the son of a lesbian couple.  Choose your media venue if you need a recap—here is the story from the Boston Globe, USA Today, AOL News, and The Boston Pilot. While Cardinal O’Malley was away in Portugal with the real Holy Father, Jack Connors (dubbed the “pope of Boston’s Catholic power-brokers” by the Globe) jumped into the fracas declaring this was a bad move, as can be seen by Connors’ photo and quotes that highlight these pieces in the Globe and Herald (coincidentally entitled, “Church’s balance of power shifting”). After Cardinal O’Malley returned to the U.S, he said on his May 19 blog post that the matter would be studied further and a policy developed.  That policy is close to being finalized and seeing the light of day via public promulgation, and is the subject of today’s post.

The Draft Policy

As anonymous bloggers who promise confidentiality to our readers, it should not surprise anyone that we often get anonymous emails, and several readers sent along this Draft Catholic Schools Admission Policy as of September 16, 2010.  You will note that it is marked “confidential,” which we assume means “for Catholics only.”  And, since the archdiocese has shared this fairly broadly with clergy, schools staff and lay advisory boards already and has promised transparency as being important towards rebuilding trust with the people of this Archdiocese, we assume it is OK to share, in confidence, with just the limited group of Catholics who read this blog.  Just do not share it broadly.  If anyone from the archdiocese objects to this draft being posted in the interest of helping make a better policy for Catholics in this generation and generations to come, please let us know.

The crux of the policy is the following:

Our schools welcome as qualified students whose parent(s)/guardian(s) accept and understand that the teachings of the Catholic Church are an essential and required part of the curriculum. We count on our parents to partner with our principals and faculty in the student’s educational experience. We do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.

The purpose of this post (and hopefully any comments you offer) is not to discuss the pros and cons of that draft policy position, but rather to highlight two things in the draft that are potentially misleading or deceptive.

Two Misleading or Deceptive Aspects of the Policy Draft

1) Holy Father’s quote. The document opens by saying, “In creating this policy we are guided by the words of the Holy Father, by Canon Law and by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops”

“No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”  Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to Catholic Educators in Washington DC. April 17, 2008.

There is one concern with that quote–it is missing the context of the entire paragraph or two immediately preceding it. Here is a link to Holy Father’s actual address to Catholic University of America, and the quote in-context:

The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation….Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.

This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.

It seems to this writer that the context in which the Holy Father spoke was very different from the context in which that one selective phrase has been used, absent all context, in this draft document.  We are giving you the factual information.  You should decide for yourself how you feel.

Without debating the underlying position or principles of the policy, are we the only ones who find the absence of context for the Holy Father’s words a tad misleading?

2. Principle of subsidiarity. Is it maintained by this draft policy, or is it negated?

In Catholic teaching, this means the Church usually assumes that problems are best defined and resolved by those most closely affected by them. Here are excerpts from an interesting piece from the Phoenix Diocesan Newspaper on the topic of subsidiarity.

The principle of subsidiarity is a basic tenet of Church law. Under this principle, authorities at higher levels of the organization discern what responsibilities and tasks lower level authorities are capable of fulfilling, based on Church law and the particular definition of the given role of those lower level authorities.

This allocation of responsibilities can be seen at every level of the Church. The pope appoints a bishop to lead a particular diocese, just as a bishop appoints a certain priest to lead a particular parish, just as pastors appoint parishioners to lead particular ministries, according to each individual’s gifts and ability to fulfill their defined role.

By entrusting a pastor to care for the people of his parish, and by empowering a pastor to make certain decisions on behalf of his parish, the bishop is exercising the principle of subsidiarity.

“A parish has the freedom to meet the local needs of their area according to the gifts of the parish,” said Fr. Chris Fraser, judicial vicar and canon law expert.

“The diocesan bishop isn’t going to determine that one parish will have an outreach for the poor while another has a ministry for immigrants,” he said. “Each parish must evaluate its gifts and resources and reach out to the local community in ways it feels called.”

If you look at the draft policy for the Archdiocese of Boston, it says the following:

Pastors, principals, advisory and/or governing boards may develop specific admission policies for their school provided they are in conformity with the Archdiocesan Admission Policy.

In other words, the archdiocese wrote in the words that they still endorse the concept of subsidiarity–but only as long as you, the pastors and parishes, do what the Archdiocese  directs you to do from the top-down.  We asked a canon lawyer friend about this one, and were told the archdiocese is treading on canonical “thin ice” with this provision as worded.

We know some people will pounce on us for this post.  The archdiocese will claim a confidential draft document has been “leaked” and will claim it is still undergoing revisions. Some people will inaccurately believe we are opining on the policy.  In reality, we had enough emails from parents and clergy asking us to cover this that we decided to put this out in the open.

A friend of the blog commented this morning that regardless of the end good which may be intended by a particular effort or initiative, it is always best to ensure that honesty and integrity are maintained through all of the means of attaining that end. That is the reason behind our posts about possible deception, and indeed, it is a motivator behind this blog.

Once again, readers, this post is not about the position articulated in the policy draft. There are no doubt better venues for that to be discussed.  If you want to tell the Archdiocese what you think of the policy, we suggest you contact the Vicar General (Vicar_General@rcab.org), his assistant Fr. Bryan Parrish, and superintendent of schools, Mary Grassa O’Neill.  (We can give emails for them separately if you want them).

We are simply raising questions about how the policy is being “sold” to key constituencies and whether there are aspects of this draft document that are seen as misleading.  We have just been deceived about an open search for the head of development.  Is this a pattern of behavior?  Do the means justify the ends?  Please keep comments focused in those areas so we do not need to moderate.


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