Text of speech to Mass last weekend.

Hello, everyone. My name is Wendy Kelly and I am fortunate enough to spend my days right through that door as the principal of a school that has been connected to St. Laurence Church for many years in more ways than just being physically an extension of the building. In the brief time that I’ve been a part of this family, I have heard so many stories and fond memories from families who have sent their children to St. Laurence School. To say that the school is steeped in tradition is actually an understatement. In that part of our building, many, many children have had, and continue to have, the benefit of a Catholic education and, more importantly, receive the gift of a foundation in faith.

 

As you may or may not know, the Diocese of Rockford embarked on a study of their Catholic schools last year. As someone who started out in the field of business, it makes perfect sense to me that the Diocese needed to examine its schools and their fiscal viability.  While this process was necessary, the information that has been shared thus far via the media, word of mouth, etc. has sparked uneasiness especially in a parish community that has felt this feeling for a number of years. The reason I chose to speak to you today is to calm some of this uneasiness, to relay to you my position and to invite you to partner with me.

 

From the beginning of my career in education 13 years ago, I have had this small, poster in plain sight in my classroom and now office. It was something that I heard in a meeting in the first months of being a teacher. It is “Remember that the important thing is to keep the important thing the important thing.” Funny how a seemingly repetitive and not very eloquent quote pretty much says it all. We all know it’s easy to get bogged down in minutia which isn’t usually the important thing. The important thing is our kids. The important thing is doing what’s best for them every single day. In that vein, the important thing to me, and I can say that I am blessed to be surrounded by a faculty, staff and boss that agrees, is that what’s best for them is a Catholic education in a school that has the richness that comes with being a part of a larger parish family.

 

I write each week about, I mean brag about all that is happening in our school currently, but I would like to share with you some of the many exciting ways we are improving St. Laurence for our kids. Because Catholic Identity is one of the integral ways that we are different from other schools, we will create a Catholic Identity committee to identify the current level of excitement about our faith and to develop a plan to improve upon that. It is so important, especially in our world today, to give our children the gift of hope that comes from our faith. Our preschool program will expand to a full day 4 year old program, a half day 4 year old program, and a half day 3 year old program. We will be adding Spanish language classes in grades 5-8, we are expanding our gifted enrichment program, and will continue our focus on STEM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through upgrades to our technology beginning next school year. The plan is to work toward becoming a one to one school which means that each student will have access to a device throughout the school day like our partner high school, St. Edward, we are already working  toward aligning our curriculum to the Next Generation Science standards without losing the current level of rigor in our science curriculum, and will continue work on the implementation of Guided Math at all grade levels which is a teaching model that allows a student to thrive in math through individualized instruction.  As you can see, our focus is on differentiation which, in essence, is addressing the individual needs of each student to help them become confident learners prepared for the next step in their lives. We are additionally able to do this through our teachers who willingly meet with students outside of the classroom to give extra help, volunteer tutors, a new resource room and collaboration between the classroom teacher and me to design specific interventions for each child. Keeping in mind that academics are not the only way a child grows, we are also beginning implementation of the Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports system to address behavior and discipline in a way intended to change behaviors and give students the tools to make better choices and are looking into implementing a Mindful Moments with Jesus time that allows students to utilize the power of prayer and meditation to decompress and lessen stress and anxiety. At this point, utilizing the Church for this is our first consideration.

 

While some may say that declining numbers in enrollment are just a fact nationwide and we don’t have control of that, I believe that enrollment is directly related to getting the word out which I don’t believe we’ve done well given that all of our Catholic schools in Elgin combined tap 4% of the school age market. I think we can all agree that that is a ridiculously small number.  In the business world they talk about relaying ROI, return on investment, to their clients. Businesses strive to create the feeling in us that we want to be a part of what they offer because of the benefits to us. At St. Laurence, we have something special happening in that building every single day. We also have something special because we are connected to this parish. I signed a new contract for next year this week because I want to continue to be a part of this. I don’t believe we have done enough to get the word out so that the parents of the 96% see why they want their family and their child to be a part of this.  It’s not a good thing to be a “hidden gem” or “the best kept secret”. The important thing right now, and I’ll be honest, I need your help, is to get the word out to everyone that St. Laurence is not only an affordable option that is doing all the special things they’ve done in the past, but is also making positive improvements in an effort to keep the important thing the important thing.  In my mind this is so much more about sharing something special with more children than filling seats.

 

In closing, I would like to invite you to the Diocesan Strategic meeting at St. Edward High School on April 3rd from 7-8:30. At this meeting, the Diocese will share the data they have accumulated related to Catholic education in Elgin. In speaking with our Diocesan Superintendent, Michael Kagan, recently, I can assure you they understand that data, while important, is simply a snapshot of the reality on paper. Without being a part of our community, that’s all they have right now and that is what they will share with us. This meeting will give those of us who live the reality an opportunity to share that part which I think is vastly more important as the Diocese moves forward with a plan. They are looking for our feedback and I invite you to join my staff and me in this conversation. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to visit me or call. My door continues to be open. Thank you and God bless our entire parish family.