The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools is unveiling a new strategic plan that to guide schools through the next four years. “Renewal and Hope: A Strategic Plan for Catholic School Vitality” was shared with pastors and principals in August and an executive summary of the plan is available at schools.archchicago.org. “Our plan represents a four-year road map designed to provide Catholic schools that are of the highest possible academic and religious quality and that are accessible and sustainable,” said Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools. Rigg began working on the plan with members of the archdiocesan school board and staff members soon after he became superintendent in late 2015. The previous strategic plan, which was unveiled in 2013, was set to come to an at the close of the 2016-2017 school year. Rigg said the plan focuses on five key areas: Catholic identity, academic excellence, leadership, governance and financial vitality. “It emphasizes all five of those areas in a balanced way,” Rigg said. The previous plan was weighted more toward financial vitality, he said. “That was a major need at the time,” he said. Since then, there has been some improvement in schools’ financial stability, thanks in part to the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign, which was an outgrowth of the previous strategic plan. “We still have a lot to do in that regard,” Rigg said. “We still have schools that are facing major financial and demographic headwinds. We still have schools that are in danger of closing. But we also have schools that are doing very well, and schools that have been able to turn things around.” The plan highlights the success of a system in which 98 percent of high school students graduate and 96 percent are college-bound. That led to the title of the new report, “Renewal and Hope,” he said. The plan also ties into Renew My Church, the archdiocese-wide initiative to strengthen parish vitality and to better align resources for the church to fulfill its mission. Among other things, the plan calls for updating and implementing a rigorous religion curriculum, complete with a new standardized assessment of religious learning; working to recruit and retain good teachers and developing a standards-based teacher assessment that focuses on differentiation and inclusion; working to retain high-performing principals; having flexibility in governance models based on local circumstances; and making sure schools are using best practice models for financial management tuition collection and expense control, as well as enhancing marketing and enrollment strategies, with special attention to Hispanic communities. Despite the challenges, the overall attitude is one of optimism. “We always have hope in our schools,” Rigg said. According to the plan, Catholic school education is, and will continue to be, a priority for the archdiocese, and Catholic schools. “Our evangelizing mission is at the heart of our schools, and must be prioritized and enhanced, working with local parishes and the church as a whole to address declining trends in Mass attendance and active participation in the Catholic faith,” the plan says.