Principal speaks at national conference

Celeste Vincent
Julie Delaney stands in front of a PowerPoint image before her presentation at the National Catholic Education Association conference in Pittsburgh earlier this month.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — For more than 35 years, Julie Delaney has watched the relationship between Catholic schools and parishes evolve. “The more they work together, the stronger both the parish and school become,” said Delaney, principal of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School.

Delaney presented “The Evangelization Team: Parish and School Working Together” to educators during the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) conference earlier this month in Pittsburgh. “I submitted a proposal to the NCEA for my presentation. The reason I wanted to present is because I’ve learned over the years that the relationship between the parish and school is vital to the success of both. I want to help others to be successful.”

She attended past NCEA conferences; this was her first one as a presenter. Last fall, she spoke about the parish-school relationship at the Notre Dame ACE Leadership Conference in South Bend, Indiana and gave a series of presentations for the Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin.


During her NCEA talk, she posed these questions: Is it a parish with a school or a school with a parish? Or is it a parish school? “Which best describes your school and parish? She observed, “In an era of declining enrollments and church attendance, strengthening the relationship between the school and parish(es) is a win for the entire community.”

Delaney shared strategies to strengthen the partnership between parish(es) and school and increase the evangelization capacity. “The connection between the parish and school has grown over the past 10 years and we have been very intentional about it,” she said of her experience at St. Paul.

For example, “as the principal, I am considered a member of the parish staff and attend all parish staff meetings and retreats. One key way we have built the relationship is how we do our staff meetings and a good portion of that is through prayer and inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us. The meeting is much more than just going over upcoming events and Mass schedules. We discuss strategy.”

The two groups work on a joint calendar each year to ensure school and parish events align with each other’s mission and to “see how we can stack hands on events to make them more intentional,” Delaney said. Even simple efforts such as sharing a website landing page and including school information in the parish bulletin strengthen the bond.

During her presentation, Delaney took a poll. Four of the 32 respondents answered that they had a cohesive parish and school unit, with the majority of respondents giving a rating of 2 or 3 on a scale with 5 being the highest. Generally, this is what Delaney has found working with parishes and schools in the past with Catholic School Management as a consultant.

Feedback to her presentation was positive and she had “great follow-up conversations with some of the participants.” The NCEA conference, specifically for Catholic educators, “meets our needs in the areas of faith formation, academics, governance and advancement. Most secular conferences tend to be specific to academics, finances or governance. Also, these areas are very different in a Catholic school from a public school.”

Celeste Vincent, principal of Regina Elementary in Iowa City, attended Delaney’s talks. “She did a fantastic job,” said Vincent, who attended the NCEA conference with five others from Regina.

They attend to “stay current on issues facing Catholic schools, to network with other Catholic educators and learn from others what is new and exciting in the world of education.”

Sessions she attended were “Innovative Instructional Leadership: Data-Informed Decision Making in Catholic Schools,” “Implementing a Professional Learning Community in a Catholic School: Setting High Expectations, Providing Support, and Being Accountable,” “There is No Substitute for the Human Connection,” and “Keeping the Faith While Teaching the Faith.” The conference also offered a vendor fair featuring the latest in school technology, curriculum and other support services, Vincent said. Being able to celebrate the Eucharist liturgy with other servant leaders in the field of Catholic education is also a powerful and spiritual experience, she said.

Craig Huebner, principal of Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in Fort Madison and West Point, attended his first NCEA this year. Staff who have attended previously returned “rejuvenated and with great ideas and resources to bring to our system.” This year, three other staff members joined him.

A session on professional learning communities in small systems “was very enlightening.” He plans to use strategies from that session and a communication session immediately in the Holy Trinity Schools system.  “I would recommend schools send staff each year. It is a great experience and can be the recharge staff need to continue providing a quality Catholic education.”

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