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ND prof to speak to White House, President Bush

Claire Reising | Thursday, April 24, 2008

Political science professor Father Timothy Scully will speak at Washington today about the closing of almost 1,200 faith-based, inner-city schools between 2000 and 2006, as part of the White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools.

Scully’s speech, entitled “Higher Education: Signs of Hope” will draw from his work as the co- founder of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), which trains college graduates to work in inner-city Catholic schools. Scully, who is a former Executive Vice President of the University, is also the founding director of the University’s Institute for Educational Initiatives.

“In terms of the providers of faith-based educators, the ACE program is the largest and the most well-known in the country, so I suppose we were natural partners for them to turn to in terms of inviting us to be involved in the summit,” he said.

Scully received an invitation directly from the White House for the summit, which President George W. Bush convened to discuss ways to bolster education for inner-city schools.

In a White House press release, Bush said the summit will address low-income urban students’ need for more educational options and gather educators, philanthropists, business leaders and the clergy to promote “reasonable legislation out of Congress and practical solutions to save these schools – and more importantly, to save the children.”

Scully said the summit is timed to correspond with Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. But of the expected 300 attendees at the summit, there will be both proponents of supporting faith-based, inner-city schools and critics of this practice, he said.

According to the White House press release, topics will include how faith-based schools have served the “common good” of disadvantaged students, as well as the financial challenges these schools – which operate on families’ and donors’ contributions – face, among other related topics.

Scully’s speech will discuss higher education’s potential role in strengthening faith-based schools. He will draw from his 10-year experience with ACE and other Catholic universities around the nation that have since begun similar programs.

“The organizers of the summit asked ACE to think about … what are the ways in which higher education can partner with other institutions in order to play a role in strengthening and sustaining inner-city faith-based schools,” Scully said. “The talk that I’m giving really draws deeply upon the experience of ACE at Notre Dame but goes beyond it to invite other institutions of higher learning to consider some of the same strategies.”

Scully said the issues faith-based schools face have changed in three major areas since ACE began in 1994: leadership needs, financial stewardship and demographics.

While ACE was originally founded to provide teachers, Scully said the schools the program serves are in a “crisis of leadership” and need administrative leaders to replace retirees. They have increasingly relied on lay people to fill these posts and the ACE Leadership program was initiated to train future principals.

Other issues in question, Scully said, are the expectancy for more transparency within institutions and more lay participation in school boards.

“[We] have to train local schools to form boards and to understand lay governments and to have appropriate accounting practices that are transparent and auditable,” he said.

Another change is that despite a growing Latino population across the U.S., only three percent of Latino families send their children to Catholic schools, Scully said.

“If we can’t attract and include more aggressively Latino families in our schools, we will not be able to provide the kind of … experience that we have to,” he said.

Despite the program’s challenge to address this new agenda, Scully said he sees hope for the future of faith-based education, both in the institutions’ ability to respond to problems they face and in the government’s cooperation with faith-based initiatives.

“Crises have an important role to play in the life of institutions and organizations, if they’re responded to,” Scully said. “It really is true that crises can provide opportunities for organizations who otherwise might not have responded to the changing environment.”

From a historical perspective, Scully said this interaction between Catholicism and the U.S. government, as shown in the summit and papal visit, is pivotal as a change from anti-Catholic attitudes in American history.

“This is a school system that was viciously attacked in the 19th century by the public arena,” he said. “It seems that those who are responsible for America’s common good – elected officials – are really willing to engage the importance in the contribution these schools offer, and that, to me, speaks of hope.”