When Greg Richmond officially becomes the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago Aug. 16, he will bring with him a lifetime of educational experience, almost all of it in the area of charter schools.
But Richmond, who founded Chicago Public Schools’ Charter Schools Office and was the founding chairman of the Illinois State Charter School Commission and the CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, has also been a Catholic school parent who believes in the values of Catholic education.
“I’m a parent of adult children who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school graduation,” said Richmond, who has served on the boards of St. Walter School and Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. “I know what it means to be a parent and what it means to be part of a Catholic school community, the strength of that community with the school, with the principal, with the pastor, then also with your fellow parents. The community that is possible because of Catholic schools is just tremendous.”
Richmond said he believes his experience in working with charter schools can also serve Catholic schools, allowing them to offer the best possible education while raising their public profile.
“I’ve spent my career working with systems of schools to help them solve problems so they can focus on what they love most, which is educating students,” said Richmond. “My primary role and the primary role of the Office of Catholic Schools should be supporting our schools and students and families so that they can excel. That has been my role: to help them so they can do a great job.”
Cardinal Cupich praised Richmond’s experience in a July 26 statement announcing the appointment.
“We are blessed to have attracted Greg Richmond, an education thought leader and Catholic school parent to the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools,” Cardinal Cupich said. “We are committed to building on our legacy of preparing our students for life through an education that is holistic and marked by a strong Catholic identity. This has been the success of our school system over many generations. Greg’s experience here and around the world will give us a creative, best-practice-based approach to achieving that goal. I am grateful to the search committee of the Archdiocese School Board for their work in securing Greg’s leadership at this time of unique opportunity.”
Those opportunities include the existence of the Illinois tax credit scholarship program, which can make Catholic schools more affordable for middle- and lower-income families, and the beginning of monthly federal tax credit payments to most families with children, Richmond said.
“Let’s help parents think about what’s available,” Richmond said. “Finances are important and they are a barrier to some families. … There are families who would send their children to Catholic schools if they could afford it, but they can’t. There are families that make tremendous sacrifices to send their children to Catholic schools.”
That means that archdiocesan schools must continue to work with partners such as the Big Shoulders Fund, and make sure that parents who are considering Catholic schools are aware of the availability of financial aid.
“I think we have an opportunity to provide better information to parents,” Richmond said, in reference to financial aid information. “I just visited the web pages of a number of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and some of them do a really nice job on that. Some of them, you can’t find it.”
Richmond said he wants the Office of Catholic Schools to help schools improve the way they tell their stories overall as well.
“We need to modernize the digital media and marketing role which we all need to exist so that parents find out about Catholic schools,” Richmond said. “We need to modernize that function so that everybody knows about Catholic schools.
“I would like every parent in Cook and Lake counties, regardless of their faith, to think about whether a Catholic school could be a good school for their child,” Richmond said.
He also said schools should look for ways to differentiate themselves, making for a more “personalized” education.
“There was a group of schools that are launching dual-language programs, for example,” Richmond said (see “Ten archdiocesan schools to pilot preschool dual-language program,” Chicago Catholic, May 23). “Could we do more things like that? Could we have schools offering STEM programs, or a performing arts Catholic school or more International Baccalaureate programs?”
But the most important thing the Office of Catholic Schools will focus on is supporting the people who make Catholic schools what they are.
“It begins with teachers and principals and staff in our schools,” Richmond said. “We want to do everything we can support them support their development and give them the resources and tools they need to be successful.”
That includes helping schools recruit good young teachers and retain them as they gain experience.
Richmond said he knows some people in Catholic schools do not have a high opinion of charter schools, which are essentially independent schools that receive public funding rather than charging tuition.
“Within the official public school world, charter schools are not very popular either, so that’s not new,” Richmond said. “Charter schools have a lot in common with Catholic schools. Many charter schools tend to be small and personalized. Charter schools have to be scrappy and self-reliant. Like Catholic schools, charter schools are schools of choice. No one is assigned to attend.
“We can’t take students for granted. Nobody should be taking students for granted. We need to continually earn the privilege to educate students. Whether you’re a public school run by a district or a charter school or a Catholic school, we have to understand that it is privilege to educate students.”
While Catholic school enrollment has declined over the recent decades, Richmond said, some of the biggest factors are demographic, with a declining population in Illinois and families having fewer children. Those trends have hit public schools as well, with Chicago Public Schools losing 70,000 students in the past 15 years.
Enrollment declines are not a given, though, Richmond said.
“We can grow our enrollment,” he insisted. “Not just for the sake of adding numbers, but because by doing that, we are growing our students academically and in their faith, and growing our church.”
Dozens of children swarmed the apple trees that grow along the western border of the St. George School grounds in Tinley Park Sept. 17, plucking the ripe apples and dropping them in boxes.
Catholic high school leaders from the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered at DePaul College Prep Oct. 14 to discuss their efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their schools.
When students at Our Lady of Charity School in Cicero go up or down the stairs, they are met with the images of six youthful holy people: Blessed Carlo Acutis, St. Maria Goretti, St. José Sánchez del Río, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the Venerable Father Augustus Tolton.