Local Ministries Schools

Pandemic doesn’t slow school advancement

Business teams of volunteers from throughout the archdiocese have used Zoom meetings and other technology to keep the School Advancement Program on track. SUBMITTED PHOTO

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

KANSAS CITY, Kan. —  When archdiocesan schools shut down in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the School Advancement Program (SAP) opened up to creative ways of staying connected and committed to Catholic education.

“Nothing changes as far as the school needs are concerned,” said Michael Morrisey, executive director of SAP. “We couldn’t be more proud of our schools, our business teams and our boards through all this.

“They’re continuing to move the ball forward.”

SAP is a three-year process involving three phases of development for each participating school.

The first phase involves setting up a business team of volunteers from throughout the archdiocese that understands and can help manage the business side of the school.

Phase two includes development and fundraising, while phase three encompasses enrollment management.

During the pandemic, video conferencing has been the key to continuing productivity, and no one understands that better than Debora Schmitz, a member of Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka and president of the Mater Dei School business team.

Schmitz is an information technology director with a 35-year career in the industry.

“As an IT person,” she said, “I see how the internet has made this pandemic bearable.

“Mater Dei has embraced technology for years, and I think introducing that technology to the business team members and having them on board has been excellent.”

Various committees send status reports to Schmitz prior to virtual meetings. She then compiles the information into one document for review by the team during their video conference.

Getting everyone online and connected took a few minutes at first, but Schmitz said it is “old school” now.

“They log in easily,” she said. “And we are conducting the meetings very quickly, going through the business.

“I would say from a business-team standpoint, and this is my IT heart speaking, it’s good for us to recognize that we can be together even when we’re not together.”

Kurt Rall, a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood, is a member of the business team that serves Our Lady of Unity School in Kansas City, Kansas.

He has seen video communication streamline the process of getting things done.

“You don’t have the socializing in the front and at the end,” he said. “It’s very cordial, it’s very businesslike.

“We’re hitting our goals, we’re hitting our objectives.”

The Our Lady of Unity team is so efficient virtually that they are quickly progressing on plans for a fundraiser pig roast next October.

Fundraising is one of the many responsibilities of the business teams and has taken on particular importance with the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy.

“The parishes are struggling from a giving standpoint,” said Morrisey. “Parish subsidies are important to these schools.”

To that end, Holy Name School in Kansas City, Kansas, is also looking forward to a fundraiser next January.

Zoom and Google Meet have been successful venues for coordinating their work.

“Of course, we miss the person- to-person contact,” said business team member Cherie Rourke, a parishioner of Curé of Ars Parish, Leawood. “But we can actually have these remote meetings and be able to see facial expressions.

“I think people are learning to work in a different way.”

Boards and business teams have been essential in helping schools tread the waters of the pandemic, and will continue their strong support when schools are back in session.

“They didn’t miss a beat,” said Morrisey. “I think our people have been interacting more with the principals and pastors than before.”

From organizing fundraisers, to assisting with the Payroll Protection Plan, to recruiting new students during the shutdown, team and board members have been there.

“Principals and pastors have had someone to turn to for support,” said Morrisey. “And that’s what the business team and respective boards are supposed to do.”

“I think we’ve learned that things go on,” said Rourke. “Just because we can’t meet together in a face-to-face interaction, we still know the goal is to keep the doors open.

 “And it’s all about the kids.”

Schmitz predicts this new way of doing business will continue to pay off in the future.

“Even when we’re meeting face-to-face,” she said, “sometimes you really want to squeeze in a meeting somewhere and it’s kind of nice to have that tool in your tool belt where you can say, ‘Lets just get on a Google Meet session.’

“We can meet together, we can see each other, we can share documents and work through things.

“That’s excellent technology.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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