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Principals tour iconic churches during summer meeting


Catholic elementary school principals mixed business with pleasure as they toured some of Buffalo’s magnificent churches during their annual principal’s meeting with the diocesan Catholic Schools Department. The Aug. 18 tour took them to Blessed Trinity, St. Casimir, Corpus Christi and St. Louis churches, all within the city limits. Along with learning about Blessed Trinity’s terra cotta brickwork laid by local workers and St. John Paul II’s visit to St. Casmir’s, they learned of the game plan for the upcoming school year.

Elementary principals and Catholic Schools Department staff take part in the Aug. 18 Principals Meeting, which included a tour of several Buffalo churches. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

Dr. Tim Uhl, secretary of education for the diocese, opened with a prayer based on the parable of the paralytic – one weak man being helped by others to become closer to Jesus.  

“If nothing else, what we hope you get out of today is collaboration,” Uhl told the 28 principals who had gathered for the daylong meeting.

To put collaboration skills to the test, the principals broke into teams and tried to escape from a virtual escape room.

Uhl addressed the three common challenges Catholic schools face – low enrollment, underpaid teachers, and tuition costs.

“Every one of you has those three challenges,” he said.

One of the priorities of the Catholic Schools Department is to provide resources and time to a collaborative strategic planning process for the diocesan Catholic schools. T.A. Dickel Consulting Firm will address organizational leadership, strategy and creativity for up to 10 schools beginning in September.

Another priority is the character formation programs. “We want to instill in our students an appreciation for a virtuous life and teach the building blocks of character,” said Uhl.

Each month a short video explaining a value and its connected behaviors will be produced in the hope that each school finds a way to reinforce those values and behaviors throughout the month. Students who excel in displaying these positive character traits will be celebrated by the diocese.

Diocesan competitions in chess, science, spelling, robotics and math will take place to jump-start the creation of curricular and co-curricular efforts in each school to establish competitive teams and clubs.

Kickball competitions will be introduced. A diocesan elementary golf tournament will be held this fall. Tennis is planned for this spring. Bowling and co-ed flag football clinics will be held to test interest in these sports.

“These are ways to get students involved,” said Uhl. “We’re going to be building on that with lots of different activities. We want to make sure those things are successful.”

Kari Buchinger, deputy superintendent of Catholic Schools, spoke on a planned professional development day on Oct. 7, that will provide an opportunity to see really strong instruction, allow principals and teachers to discuss how they can adapt for their situation, and create community among teachers.

The Catholic Schools Department also provided links to resources to celebrate the diocese’s 175th that includes lesson plans, prayers and field trip ideas.

The principals who attended the meeting seemed to enjoy taking a break from the classroom lecture to see the different churches of the diocese.

At St. Casimir Church principals learn faith teaching should begin at home. Here they see a shrine dedicated to the Domestic Church. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

 “It was interesting to see some of the older churches and hear of the community that rallied around them coming together, and have it be the format for us coming together as a community of Catholic educators,” said Jonna Johnson of St. John the Baptist School, Alden.

The small rural school has expanded its STREAM program and will begin a garden initiative this year.

“We are really going to focus this year on teaching children how to grow things, how to eat healthy, how to prepare those things. We’re doing that at a school-wide level. We have a greenhouse that’s going to be delivered at the end of this week. We have our cafeteria manager looking forward to using what we grow in our nutrition program,” Johnson said.

St. Christopher School is heading into the new school year with a full staff, and is looking to introduce new programs that work within the budget.

“We’re increasing different kinds of fundraisers this year. Trying to think outside the box and look for new ways to fundraise,” said Principal Denise Cronyn.

Party band Nerds Gone Wild will come to the Tonawanda school for a concert at the end of September.

The junior high students will experience a six-day schedule this year at St. Mark School in Buffalo. Electives in ceramics, language and linguistics, and others will also be offered.

“It’s something that we’re all excited about because it’s very different for us all. So, it’s going to be a great year to learn and see how we can help benefit the kid,” said Principal Chris Gardon.

“They made a point to talk about camaraderie and getting to talk to other principals you don’t see all that often. So, it was good that we could meet and talk.”