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ACE Consulting moves forward

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Consulting Initiative – a program that aims to provide under-resourced elementary and secondary Catholic schools with free consulting services – is underway with recent hires and plans.

ACE Consulting appointed Stephen Perla, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Mass., as director, according to John Staud, ACE director.

ACE Consulting is a response to the 2006 final report of the Notre Dame Task Force on Catholic Education, which was commissioned by University President Father John Jenkins and chaired by Father Timothy Scully, director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at Notre Dame and ACE founder.

The report, entitled “Making God Known, Loved, and Served,” proposed the development of the ACE Consulting Initiative, “which will work to provide expertise to elementary and secondary Catholic schools in a variety of areas, including marketing, governance, board training, management, strategic planning, and investing.”

Under-resourced or struggling schools are often unable to afford key consulting services of this nature, Staud said.

“A lot of Catholic schools do not have the resources to pay for consulting,” he said. “We would hope that if a diocese is contemplating closing a school or parish, they would contact us first.”

Assistant Director of ACE Consulting Chuck Lamphier said there were about 60 applicants for the position of director.

“We knew the decision would be an important decision in the life of this program and we were very pleased with who we could hire,” he said.

Lamphier, a Master of Nonprofit Administration student hired last June, has had “three major responsibilities” in the early stages of ACE Consulting, including staffing the search for the director, he said. He also began drafting the business plan and assisted Scully in forming the advisory committee.

Many Catholic schools struggle today because of changes in the last decades.

“In the last 40 or 50 years, Catholic schools have gone through a tremendous transformation,” Lamphier said.

He explained that the transition from nuns to lay people at the helm of Catholic schools had a financial impact. Unlike lay people, nuns did not require a lot of pay, retirement funds or other benefits – and the costs to attend Catholic schools were not as high, he said.

Moreover, inner city Catholic schools face declining enrollments because many Catholic families move from inner cities to suburbs and attend Catholic schools there, Lamphier said.

To help Catholic schools overcome these challenges, ACE Consulting’s first step will be to listen to the needs of the schools, he said.

“When we first get to a school, we’re going to want to talk to a lot of people,” Lamphier said.

This will help the program’s staff determine what families, faculty and staff members want for the school.

“Listening is first,” he said. “Then [we] identify not only where [the schools] need help, but also see what we can do.”

But instead of simply telling schools what changes they need to make, ACE Consulting plans to work with them to make improvements, Lamphier said.

“We will never come in and dictate how they ought to be. But we hope to enter into a relationship,” he said.

Staud also emphasized the importance of building relationships with schools.

“We may not just say ‘You need to do an annual report,’ but we will help them figure out how to do it and work with them,” he said.

Staud added that it is not only a lack of financial resources that poses a problem to Catholic schools, but also that many Catholic schools are “stretched.” Oftentimes one person must do several jobs to keep the school running, not leaving enough time to deal with business matters.

Eventually, Lamphier hopes that ACE Consulting will have five to nine full-time staff members, as well as the support of other members of the Notre Dame community.

“We hope also to engage other friends of Notre Dame – graduates, members of the business community – to help pro bono,” he said.

Staud cited the keynote speech delivered by Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education, at the ACE graduation in 2006. Spellings referred to Catholic schools as “national treasures,” Staud said.

“[There are] many people in the country who recognize the amount of work [Catholic schools] do and continue to do,” he said.

Education for children in under-resourced areas – whether or not they are Catholic – is “one of the most vital resources for the Church, and even for our country,” Staud said.

Catholic schools as an institution have the potential to impact the nation, he said.

“After the second Vatican council, we emphasize justice. Catholic schools became a powerful influence for that,” he said. “Whether or not the kids were Catholic was not important.”

But despite their contributions, American Catholic schools still face difficult times. Financial pressures, Staud said, are a critical reason why many inner city Catholic schools have closed their doors, especially in the Northeast and Midwest regions.