Her heart's desire: giving inspiration to Catholic schools

By Catholic New World
Sunday, September 9, 2012

When Lorraine Ozar started the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness at Loyola University Chicago nine years ago, she had spent years working in Catholic schools as a teacher, administrator and consultant, including time in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools and at Loyola Academy and Marillac High School.

She had seen the need for high quality professional development for Catholic school educators, and she knew from experience that such professional development would be more effective if it came from someone who had been there.

“When a presenter is someone who has been a Catholic school educator, you’re more credible,” said Ozar, whose center now has three full-time professional staff and has worked with Catholic schools and dioceses around the country in the areas of professional development, research and building effectiveness.

For example, presenters who speak in terms of public school structures such as school districts and bond issues lose the attention of Catholic school teachers, Ozar said. Catholic schools generally have a much greater emphasis on educating the whole child, encouraging spiritual, emotional and psychological development as well as intellectual growth.

They also are used to working on shoestring budgets and making the best of limited resources, she said. At the same time, they have the freedom and flexibility to try new things without getting approval from multiple levels of bureaucracy.

Ozar is one of two people from the Archdiocese of Chicago and six from across the country who will be honored Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C., with the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the National Catholic Education Association. Ozar will receive the President’s Award for her vision and leadership in the development of effective Catholic school curricula and instruction.

Other recipients are Leigh-Anne Kazma of Chicago, who has dedicated her career to the patronage of Catholic education through the generous efforts of the Kazma Family Foundation; Robert A. Conway of Cincinnati, philanthropist and co-founder of The Bistro Group; Chuck and Nan Geschke of Los Altos, Calif.; Tom Moran of New York, chairman and CEO, Mutual of America; and Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston.

Ozar said she thought a Catholic university with a strong school of education would be the ideal home for a center that would offer professional development outreach to Catholic schools, but when she founded the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, nothing like it existed.

There were some Catholic universities that offered educational opportunities for people who worked in Catholic schools, but they mostly offered degree programs for teachers and administrators who wanted to advance in their careers.

Since then, more Catholic universities have begun to offer outreach, she said, and the center is a member of a group of Catholic colleges and universities that are working together to support Catholic education.

Ozar and the center also took the lead on a task force to develop National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools. The resulting document offers 13 standards and 70 benchmarks in the areas of mission and Catholic identity, governance and leadership, academic excellence and operational vitality.

While there is no central authority to mandate that Catholic schools measure themselves against the benchmarks, Ozar said, many schools and dioceses have embraced them.

“What was surprising is how little resistance we got,” she said.

Such standards emphasize the fact that academic excellence is not separate from Catholic identity; it is a key component of it. A school that does not offer academic excellence should not, in good conscience, call itself Catholic, Ozar said.

In the same way, a school that is not excellent will likely not be financially vital, she said.

“When we have schools with shaky finances that are on the edge, everyone talks about how we need to market better,” she said. “But if you’re going to do marketing, you need a good product.”

Being academically excellent means keeping up on the latest education developments, which is why the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness can help schools as they start to bring their curricula in line with the national Common Core Standards or design response-to-intervention protocols.

Ozar said the center develops and hosts a few conferences for educators every year and offers stand-alone presentations, but what it tries most to do is develop relationships with schools to help them become more effective.

“Our initial vision was to be a go-to place for schools who needed help addressing professional development,” Ozar said. “I think we’ve done that.”