by Jill Ragar Esfeld
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Saint Patrick School here, taking inspiration from its patron, has adopted a simple philosophy that is, not surprisingly, threefold: It focuses on spirituality, scholarship and service.
“Like Saint Patrick, who explained the Trinity to the people of Ireland using a clover,” said principal Mary Staley, “we like to group things in threes.”
So when St. Patrick students tested for Kansas assessment this year, it was fitting that they didn’t just excel in just one area, but in all three — reading, math and writing.
In fact, they not only excelled — they scored higher than any other school in the archdiocese.
That achievement is one of many that led to St. Patrick’s being chosen for this year’s Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann School of Excellence Award. The honor, given by the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) was presented at the foundation’s annual Gaudeamus awards dinner this fall.
Only the 14 foundation schools were eligible to apply for the honor, said CEF executive director Michael Morrisey. But even if every school in the archdiocese was competing, he said, St. Patrick would still have come out on top.
“Saint Pat’s had better numbers than any other school in the archdiocese, which I think is a big, big deal,” he said. “It’s a school that has fewer resources, but because of the teachers, because of the administration, because of the process, they’re performing above and beyond.”
In order to fulfill the “school of excellence” standard, St. Patrick had to demonstrate more than just academic progress; it also had to be outstanding in its school-wide focus on the Catholic mission, resource management and stewardship involvement.
Staley attributes the school’s success to another trio — parents, teachers, and students — which she calls a working ensemble.
“Parents share their most precious gift of their children with us,” she said. “They count on us to partner with them to maximize the God-given talents of their children.”
In turn, St. Patrick teachers pride themselves on their strong focus on professional development. They work hard to stay current with new technologies and better instructional strategies. The school uses ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) results as a tool for assessing students who might need daily tutoring or after-school math and reading programs.
The school also has an advisory council consisting of concerned parents and teachers that meets once a month to see that resources are targeted toward continued excellence in education.
“They meet along with our marketing group to see where we need to focus,” said Staley. “They look at our five-year mission — where we want to be, what we see as important.”
One of the school’s most recent accomplishments is a new faith-based pre-kindergarten program that already has an impressive waiting list.
Spirituality, said Staley is the most important focus of the school’s mission, and both she and Morrisey attribute much of the school’s success in that area to parish pastor Msgr. Michael Mullen.
“He’s very supportive of Catholic education. Whenever there’s a need, he’s there for support,” said Morrisey. “I think that’s a big part of their success.”
One of Msgr. Mullen’s highest priorities is communicating directly with the students. He visits classrooms every Monday morning after a prayer service with teachers. He teaches the seventh-grade vocations class each week and invites eighth-graders to the rectory once a month to share doughnuts and thoughts on whatever topics interest them.
“He makes a point of knowing every student,” said Staley. “I think that’s very important, to have such devoted pastor involvement.”
Saint Patrick also fosters unity and community by dividing students into “Celtic” families that meet monthly for spiritual and fun activities.
“The eighth-graders are basically the matriarchs and patriarchs of the family,” explained Staley. “Then there’s also a seventh-grader, sixth-grader, all the way down the line in each family.”
Stewardship is also an important factor in this school’s bid for excellence. From kindergarten on up, students are required to do quarterly service hours appropriate to their grade level.
Each December, middle-school students hold a five-mile Walk-A-Thon to raise funds to provide needy families in the archdiocese with everything they need for a happy Christmas. In the last two years, students have raised $22,000.
Through all these accomplishments, St. Patrick keeps its focus on what Staley says is most important — forming good Catholics for the future of the church.
“Our main focus is understanding how these children are the embodiment of Christ,” she said. “We can do all the other things, we can get all the awards, but our job, as school superintendent Dr. O’Hara would say, is to get these kids to heaven.”
Morrisey agrees, and sees St. Patrick as a shining example of the benefits of Catholic education. He hopes others will see that too.
“Part of the award was the School of Excellence flag. It’s in Saint Pat’s colors — green — and they fly that flag with great pride,” he said. “We hope that it expands the awareness of Catholic education in the community.”