Successful Catholic schools are steadfast in building community and bolstering their Catholic identity.
Ss. Peter and Paul School in Boonville is doing these things in notable collaboration with its school advisory board.
“We take an active role in working with our pastor and our principal to help build up community in our parish and our school,” stated Ss. Peter and Paul School Advisory Board President Dan Schuster.
The board works to keep students, families, faculty, staff and the entire parish aware of and invested in the school’s commitment to promoting children’s physical, academic and spiritual wellbeing.
“Our focus is always on forming disciples of Jesus Christ,” Principal Alan Lammers stated. “That is our mission. We are charged with the higher duty of caring and nurturing their souls.”
“Why we’re together”
A Catholic school advisory board is just that — advisory. It has no direct involvement in personnel matters or the day-to-day running of the school.
But wise pastors and principals listen to and make good use of their school board’s counsel, said Mr. Lammers — particularly when the board’s members function as trustees of the school, not as political delegates.
He said the board works best when its members are focused on the overall health, mission and vitality of the school, rather than on staking out turf on behalf of narrow interests within the parish.
In a Catholic context, that trusteeship must also be rooted in a personal and communal walk with Christ. That’s why every meeting of Ss. Peter and Paul’s school board starts with a prayer, followed by an opportunity for each of the members to share their faith with one another.
For instance, Mr. Schuster recently asked members to share a moment when they realized that the Holy Spirit was acting in their life.
“That kind of faith-sharing is integral,” said Mr. Lammers. “It gets everyone on the same page. They understand why we’re together.”
He emphasized that at heart, the board — like the school and the parish — is a community of faith.
Ss. Peter and Paul’s school board has a lively mix of personalities and perspectives, all focused on strengthening the school, parish and community at large.
“I’m a farmer,” said Mr. Schuster. “We have a highway patrolman, two teachers, one doctor. And we all have a lot of respect for each other.”
Mr. Lammers said board members are encouraged to embrace the freedom of their advisory status.
“Not having to make the final decision often affords you the freedom to consider possibilities and solutions that you otherwise might not,” he said.
Members don’t waste time at meetings. They read up on the agenda items ahead of time, work on tasks between meetings and quickly move past items that are outside their purview.
They also focus on solutions rather than on problems.
“When we come to a meeting, we know that Father and Alan already know what the problems are, so we don’t go looking for problems,” said Mr. Schuster. “We look for solutions.
“We work well because we understand that we’re going to bring forth solutions every time we get together,” he said.
For instance, the board noticed that the school had no formal process for welcoming new families beyond the start of kindergarten.
“So together, we started a night where we just have new families and give them a tour of the school,” said Mr. Schuster. “We run down some of the basics of the school, how to drop off and pick up kids, where they eat — some nuts and bolts things like that.”
It’s also a prime opportunity to introduce new families, especially non-Catholic families, to the school’s Catholic identity.
All of this takes place in the context of an upbeat social event. Parents get to visit with each other, the principal, pastor and school board members, and the new students get to play in the gym.
“Basically, it’s about helping new students and parents become a part of the school community even before the first day of school,” said Mr. Lammers.
Old events, new energy
Similarly, the annual gathering of the school board and school staff had become a listless affair that no one looked forward to.
Last year, board members helped transform the event into a fast-paced social outing away from the school building, with hors d’oeuvres and an interesting agenda.
With Sister Julie Brandt SSND, diocesan associate superintendent of Catholic schools, facilitating, the staff and board looked at goals for the next five years, along with realistic ways to reach them.
They agreed on specifics for improving faith-formation, technology, community among students, and other aspects of the school.
In like manner, the board also worked with the Boonville Knights of Columbus to turn the school’s obligatory Back to School Night into a fun outing for the whole family.
The Knights make hamburgers, and board members serve ice cream.
Student council members introduce all of the teachers, staff and Home and School Association officers.
“We bring everybody together in the gym, and it’s basically a pep rally,” said Mr. Lammers.
They also made time for the pastor and the principal to speak to the parents and teachers together.
“This is crucial,” said Mr. Lammers. “We get their undivided attention.”
“Working for them”
The relationship between the board and the school administration has become so productive, Mr. Lammers and Mr. Schuster were called upon to lead a workshop at last year’s National Catholic Education Association convention in St. Louis.
Their topic was how principals can cultivate a productive relationship with their school advisory boards.
“You have to do a lot of board training,” Mr. Lammers told a group of educators from all over the country. “Board training and development are essential, and faith-sharing is essential.”
He said the Ss. Peter and Paul School board takes an active role in building up the school community throughout the year.
“We want the teachers to know we’re working for them,” said Mr. Schuster. “We want them to know that we’re working for our teachers as much as the parents.”
Father William Peckman, pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul parish and of St. Joseph parish in Fayette, is grateful for the board’s efforts.
“We have been breaking down the false wall between school and parish,” he said. “There are no ‘school families,’ only parish families. We are one. And the energy and collaboration between our school and our board is invigorating.
“This is what every parish school needs and deserves,” he said.