Creation of five-year plan next step in forming blueprint for unified Catholic elementary schools

Catholic Schools Mass

Students from Quincy's four Catholic elementary schools gathered Tuesday morning to celebrate Mass at Quincy Notre Dame High School. | David Adam

QUINCY — Quincy’s four Catholic elementary schools — St. Peter, St. Francis, St. Dominic and Blessed Sacrament — recently joined to form a unified school system

What the finished product is going to look like, and how long it will take, is still to be determined. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield asks for people to be patient and hopeful.

“(A unified school system) is a very hopeful step for the future when a financial crunch is threatening a lot of different enterprises,” Paprocki said after celebrating Mass with all students in Quincy’s Catholic schools at Quincy Notre Dame on Tuesday morning.

“People may be wondering, ‘Gee, will there still be a Catholic school here in the future?’ I hope fully would be that answer would yes. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we have Catholic education continuing here in Quincy.”

Changes in the elementary schools have been discussed since 2019. Andrew Mays, chair of the 10-member Board of Specified Jurisdiction that was created in February, said a roadblock to change has been a lack of data.

“We needed somebody in the system to know what the budgets are, look at them and compare them to the four schools,” Mays said. “We just didn’t have anybody to do it. The principals were phenomenal, but they have their own stuff, and they don’t have everybody else’s — plus they’ve got a full-time job. We’d go from meeting to meeting and not make any progress.

“We decided we needed somebody to spearhead the back-end aspect of this.”

That person is Chris Gill, named Aug. 1 to be the chief administrative officer of Quincy Catholic Schools. Gill previously was the vice president of student affairs and dean of students for Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio. He was the dean of student life at Culver-Stockton College for 10 years.

Gill’s first day on the job is Oct. 2. He sees his role at first as the “pusher” of the creation of a blueprint in the Catholic schools.

“Now that I’m in place, I’m going to be hopefully putting more momentum behind that so it gets to the point so that the bishop can look at everything, ask us some good questions and give us feedback,” he said. “Hopefully then we’re moving even further after that. What I can tell you that will definitely happen is we’ll be stronger and more unified with Christ.”

The history of Quincy’s Catholic schools has been as parochial schools — schools attached to a parish. They were united in their Catholic faith, but the governance of those schools was independent of each other. 

“These days, that’s getting harder and harder to do,” Paprocki said. “We see hospitals coming together and mergers of systems. It’s hard to be a standalone to do anything these days. There’s more strength in numbers of coming together and bringing the enterprise together.”

Mays says the first step is the creation of a five-year plan. 

“We make sure what we’re doing and how we’re doing it is the absolute best way possible,” he said. “We want Catholic education to be a premier faith-based educational system that’s going to attract as many Catholics — and frankly non-Catholics — as we can. To do that, the education product that we provide must be of the highest quality.

“Once (the Board of Specified Jurisdiction) establishes that five-year plan, we have a consultant we’re working with who will walk us. There’s going to be a lot of community involvement during the next couple of months. The board’s role is going to be crafting a policy that Chris and the other employees, the principals and other stakeholders will implement.”

Mays says the creation of a middle school for students from each of the four schools will be among many options discussed in the creation of the five-year plan. 

“I’ll tell you one thing that is not on the table is closing any one of the campuses,” Mays said. “No matter what the schools look like, we’re going to utilize the resources that we need. Frankly, I don’t think you can close a campus. We’ve got too many kids. We don’t fit in three buildings.”

Paprocki said he believes sharing faculty among the schools, such as a foreign language teacher, is an idea to be strongly considered.

“That’s one of the reasons why systems, hospitals and schools come together for economies of scale,” he said. “Does every school have to have its own gym teacher, its own music teacher, its own art teacher? Some of those can be shared.”

Mays said any changes like that would be additions, not subtractions. 

“Our four grade schools don’t have nurses right now,” he said. “If we hire a nurse who could cover multiple campuses, that would be an additive thing.”

Paprocki said similar approaches to reorganizing Catholic schools have succeeded in Kankakee and Racine, Wis.

“My role in the end is to improve everything,” he said. “Things have to get my stamp of approval, you might say, but it’s not going to be the kind of top-down thing where I hand them a plan and say, ‘Here it is. This is what I want you to do.’ At this point, (the plan is) somewhat ambiguous or unclear because we want this to be more of a grassroots effort.”

Mays says changes will be made. He’s unsure how big those changes will be.

“A regular parent of a student at a school might not notice significant differences,” he said. “It could be back-office cost sharing. It’ll be some collaborative continuing education with the teachers and things like that. There’s a potential for larger changes, if that’s what the community suggests and buys into.

“It’s our job to make sure we communicate and getting everybody on board with what the best options are going to be.”

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