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The State of Catholic School Leadership

Dallas Diocese Superintendents Share Vision for School Leaders


Date Published: March 8, 2018

Matt VereeckeAs the spring semester quickly rolls into spring break, and students and teachers both look forward to sunny summer vacation just around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of final projects, final exams and the myriad of activities surrounding the end of the school year. However, the excitement of endings leading up to a period of rest and relaxation also gives us pause as we look back to ask, “What has been accomplished? What can we be proud of, this year?”  

Recently, we sat down with Matthew Vereecke, Ed.D., and Verónica Alonzo, Ed.D., superintendent and associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Dallas, to ask them about the state of Catholic education in the Diocese of Dallas: “What has been accomplished? What can we be proud of this year, in our Catholic schools?”

"The aim of Catholic education is twofold – to give every child the ability to access college... and every child the ability to access Heaven."

Before the assessment, we have to know the assignment — the goal. And so, Vereecke began by relaying the aim of Catholic education: “It’s twofold,” he said. “Its aim is to give every child the ability to access college … and every child the ability to access Heaven.”

When meeting with teachers and principals across the Diocese of Dallas this year, Vereecke and Alonzo have helped educators reflect upon this twofold aim and discover how they can better integrate it into their school settings. They are striving to work with teachers who will educate students to “be in community” and “become a well-informed group of young professionals who will make decisions in accordance with the Catholic faith.”

Thanks to the vision of Vereecke and Alonzo, the hard work of their predecessors and support from the Diocese of Dallas, the implementation of the twofold mission — access to college and access to Heaven — has already borne much fruit.

The Diocese of Dallas is receiving national attention for its thriving network of Catholic schools and the sustainable model they have put into place. Unlike many dioceses now facing declining enrollment, Dallas is opening more schools to meet the needs of the roughly 1.5 million Catholics in the area. Vereecke noted that this makes his job especially enjoyable because it is focused on “building for the future.”

Both Vereecke and Alonzo acknowledge that this growth demands a great deal from the principals and teachers of our schools. To meet the demand, they encourage teachers to prepare for leadership roles that require different skills than those used in the classroom.

"We’re trying to encourage teachers by communicating to them that they may not be ready now to be a principal, but they may be ready later  so let’s prepare.”  

“We want to be sure that we have a large prospective pool of potential leaders and principals in the Diocese of Dallas. This emerges by empowering and offering opportunities to our current teachers and vice principals. We’re trying to encourage teachers by communicating to them that they may not be ready now to be a principal, but they may be ready later — so let’s prepare.”  

Vereecke recalled from his own personal experience that there can be a steep learning curve when transitioning from a teaching position to an administrative position. When searching for potential principals, Vereecke said that he does not look only for those with the best resumes, but also for those who align with the mission of the school and those who bring “sacramentality to teaching.”

For candidates who fit well with a particular school’s mission, but who may lack some of the administrative savvy, the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools Office helps provide training. Graduate programs, like the Master of Catholic School Leadership offered by the University of Dallas, also help develop skills for leadership in aspiring principals and school administrators.

Vereecke and Alonzo, who have both served as adjunct professors at UD, suggested that mission-alignment and leadership are foundational, prior to formal skills-based training for a given position. They encourage teachers to prepare for leadership roles by taking action to solve the problems at their schools even if it has not been formally requested of them to do so. Both stressed the need for humility, self-reflection and collaboration when taking on leadership roles to foster trust among parents, teachers and students.

“The first and foremost quality of a principal is that they’re a problem solver, but then they’re also someone who empowers. Good leaders delegate. Great leaders empower."

“The first and foremost quality of a principal is that they’re a problem solver, but then they’re also someone who empowers. Good leaders delegate. Great leaders empower. The delegation leader is someone who hands something off and says, ‘I want an update tomorrow.’ The empowerer says, ‘I’m handing this off to you. Let me know how it goes.’ This is how Christ approached the apostles — he taught, and then he let them go out. He didn’t say, ‘Go out to town and then come back and check in’… He said, ‘You, go and make disciples!’”

While Vereecke and Alonzo both remarked that they miss the daily interactions with students that serving as principals allowed for, they hope that in their positions, they can help provide larger numbers of students with principals who empower them to access college and Heaven. For those principals and teachers committed to the mission of Catholic education, Vereecke is confident. “We’re going to make sure they have what they need to succeed in their mission.”


Interested in hearing more from Dr. Matthew Vereecke and Dr. Verónica Alonzo, the Superintendent and Associate Superintendent of the Diocese of Dallas Catholic Schools Office? Check out their podcast, The Super Hour!

 

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