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School leaders gather for strategic planning day

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Eleven Diocesan elementary schools gathered Thursday night, Sept. 29, for the kickoff of the collaborative strategic planning process. After sharing a meal, the 60 representatives from schools spanning the diocese met the facilitator, Dr. Tad Dickel, who offered a brief overview of the challenges facing Catholic schools in the country and then outlined the process for identifying each school’s strategic priorities.

Dr. Tad Dickel leads a discussion on the challenges faced by Catholic schools. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Catholic Schools)

Representatives included the pastor for each school’s parish, the principal from each school, and members of the school boards. The process was a priority for Bishop Michael W. Fisher, who identified strategic planning as a priority for diocesan schools. “I’m pleased to see so many schools participating in this process,” said Bishop Fisher. “We would are encouraged that there is so much passionate support for our schools.”

The Department of Catholic Schools is sponsoring the process and underwriting the cost of bringing a facilitator of Dickel’s experience. Dickel hails from Indiana, where he gained notoriety as a Catholic high school president dedicated to strategic planning. As a full-time consultant now, Dickel has written “Strategic Planning for Catholic Parishes” (2021) and conducts planning workshops across the country for Catholic schools, parishes, universities and other organizations.

The advisory council representative who helped identify Dickel, Patricia Pitts, explained the reason for selecting Dickel. “We thought Tad had a very personalized approach to this collaborative process,” said Pitts. She attended the meeting and admitted to being encouraged by the turnout.

The kickoff meeting was the first of six sessions. Each school will be challenged to develop a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis in the next couple of months. Then the group will come back together in November to discuss enrollment issues, January to discuss enrollment, February for advancement issues, March for Catholic identity, and April for open topics and continued development of each school’s plan. By the end of the process, each school will identify several strategic priorities and a plan for implementation.

Principals and school board members work together during a strategic planning meeting for Catholic schools. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Catholic Schools)

Schools participating in the process include Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Harris Hill, Our Lady of Victory in Lackawanna, St. Amelia in Tonawanda, St. Andrew Country Day School in Kenmore, St. John in Alden, St. John Vianney in Orchard Park, St. Joseph University School in Buffalo, St. Mary in Swormville, St. Stephen on Grand Island, Southern Tier Catholic School in Olean, and Southtowns Catholic in Lake View.

“I think there is a lot of opportunity for the schools to collaborate more,” said Jarod Haslinger, chair of the St. John Vianney School Board. All the schools are limited in resources, he said, and need to work with other schools.

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