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New guidelines written for nationwide Catholic schools network

Standards aim for uniformity, accountability

In an effort to improve elementary and high school Catholic education, new national benchmarks and standards are being unveiled Monday to bring more uniformity to the network of Catholic schools across the country.

The new guidelines aim to increase accountability by providing schools a framework for measuring and tracking performance. They also provide a blueprint of the fundamental tenets of a Catholic education.

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Local Catholic school officials said the new document was likely to be crucial both internally and externally, allowing schools to evaluate how they are doing in areas including governance, financial planning, academic achievement, and having a Catholic identity.

It will also make it easier to explain the principles of a Catholic education to funders and parents - a philosophy that has been difficult at times to state succinctly because there can be so much variability among schools in different locations or dioceses.

“There’s no school system, there is no governing body that oversees Catholic schools in the US, and no Department of Education for the Catholic Church,’’ said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, executive director of the Roche Center for Catholic Education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and a member of the task force that put together the standards.

“We needed one document that clearly stated who we were, what our brand is, and what people can expect from’’ a Catholic education.

William Gartside, head of St. Columbkille Partnership School in Brighton, said the new guidelines will be incorporated as the school does its strategic planning but probably won’t lead to wholesale changes to his school’s curriculum or mission.

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He said they are an important articulation of principles that have been in place for centuries.

“There’s a mission-driven purposefulness to [Catholic] schools, but in the latest years or last decade or so, Catholic schools have not been communicating out there with regards to this - not a big push to show to the public outside our schools what we do inside our schools,’’ Gartside said.

Mary Grassa O’Neill, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, said that the standards were seen as necessary in part because of a dramatic shift over the last few decades. In the 1970s, she said, nearly all Catholic school leadership was made up of clergy, brothers, or nuns.

Now, she said, nearly all of the leaders are laypeople, making such guidelines important.

“This gives us very clear guidelines on what does it mean to be a community of Catholics; what should we do to promote trust in the schools, amongst the teachers, among the parents,’’ O’Neill said.

Weitzel-O’Neill said the new standards and benchmarks would be introduced to principals at training sessions at Boston College this summer.

She said the guidelines would be helpful not only to schools, but to institutions that train educators and leaders of Catholic schools.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.

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