New Advisory Council to offer input to Schools Office

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As the Diocese of Nashville’s Catholic Schools Office shepherds the diocesan school system into the future, it will have the help of the newly created Catholic Schools Advisory Council.

The Advisory Council will advise Bishop J. Mark Spalding and Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel on matters relating to Catholic schools in the diocese, Hammel said. 

One of its first tasks will be to offer advice on implementing the 11 goals developed as part of the Catholic Schools Office’s strategic plan. “They will really help the Catholic Schools Office advance our work in the strategic plan,” Hammel said.

“It’s important for Rebecca and the Catholic Schools Office to have some insight and input from individuals who are involved in Catholic education in a variety of ways,” said Frederick Strobel, the chair of the Advisory Council.

The members offer a variety of expertise related to the strategic plan goals, Strobel said. “Having that insight and information is beneficial to the Catholic Schools Office as it implements its strategic plan,” he said.

When inviting people to serve on the council, Hammel said, “I was targeting certain areas of expertise that can guide us in the oversight of the strategic plan.” Those areas include marketing, legal, Catholic identity and operational vitality.

Most members are current or past parents of Catholic school students, but not all, she noted. And not all the members are Catholic, though a majority are, Hammel added.

The council also includes one religious sister and two priests. “It was important to me to make sure religious were represented on the council,” Hammel said. Their participation will aid the council’s understanding of the importance of spiritual formation and Catholic identity at schools in the diocese, she said.

The members include: 

  • Strobel, who will serve as chair. He is the president/owner of the Burgundy Group public relations firm with 43 years of experience in advertising, public relations and marketing. He is a graduate of the former Cathedral School and Father Ryan High School, and his two daughters are graduates of St. Cecilia Academy. His business has worked with the Catholic Schools Office as well as several schools in the diocese.
  • Sister John Mary Fleming, O.P., who will serve as vice chair. She is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation and serves as its Director of Education. She is a former principal of St. Henry School in Nashville and served as the executive director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Catholic Education.
  • Cari Johns Isham, national director of development for 50CAN, a national non-profit that advocates at the local level for a high-quality education for all children. She is a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Nashville and her son is a student at Christ the King School and her daughter will be in the pre-school program there next year.
  • Arie L. Nettles, a professor of clinical pediatrics and director of the Office on Inclusion and Health Equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Nettles is a licensed psychologist and a nationally certified school psychologist. Nettles also serves as the music minister for the chapel at Saint Thomas West Hospital.
  • Rhonda Scott Kinslow of All Rise LLC and Kinslow Law Group. She is an attorney and has experience coaching and training business professionals. Her son attends St. Pius X Classical Academy.
  • Patrick Shepherd, managing partner of Avondale Partners LLC, a healthcare focused investment bank. Shepherd’s children attended Overbrook School and St. Cecilia Academy. He has been involved with several organizations and initiatives in the diocese, including the Advancement of Catholic Education, the Catholic Community Foundation, and capital campaigns at the Cathedral of the Incarnation and Holy Family Church.
  • Dustin Timmons, a partner in Donnelly Timmons Associates, a residential construction company. Timmons is a graduate of St. Henry School and Father Ryan; his children have attended Christ the King School, where he is a parishioner, and Father Ryan. He is a former board member for Christ the King School.
  • Christopher Callaghan, a private investor and advisor, mentor coach, and founder of Callaghan and Co. Callaghan is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville and a former member of the board at Pope John Paul II High School.
  • Father Andrew Forsythe, chaplain and teacher at JPII High School. Father Forsythe has been a high school teacher, director of religious education, director of music, master catechist, associate pastor and parish administrator.
  • Father Delphinus Mutajuka, associate pastor at St. Edward Church. Father Mutajuka is a former chaplain and teacher at Father Ryan and a member of the St. Edward Finance Board and Parish Council.

Some members of the Advisory Council were on the steering committee that helped develop the Catholic Schools Office’s strategic plan, Hammel said. “I was happy to have the carryover because they were part of the process.”

The Council held its first meeting in March. “That went very well,” Hammel said.

The Council is now organizing its standing committees: Executive Committee, Nominating Committee, Operational Vitality Committee, Planning Committee, Policy Committee, Marketing and Enrollment Committee, and the Mission and Catholic Identity Committee.

Each committee will be chaired by a member of the Council, with the support of one of the members of the Catholic Schools Office, Hammel explained. 

People outside the Council will be invited to serve on the committees as well, she said. “It’s a way to bring other people into the work of the Catholic Schools Office to advance the mission of our Catholic schools.”

The Council and its committees will address ways to implement the 11 goals of the strategic plan, which are organized in four categories:

  • Mission and Catholic Identity: Focus on mission; nurture vibrant Catholic communities.
  • Governance and Leadership: Invite and support collaboration; build leadership capacity; communicate regularly, effectively and intentionally.
  • Academic Excellence: Sustain the delivery of outstanding Catholic education; align schools, programs and services with the needs of students, families, parishes and communities.
  • Operational Vitality: Build demand for and commitment to the Catholic schools; assess and plan for school facility and infrastructure needs; support growth of effective school advancement programs; and promote financial transparency, accountability and accessibility.

Several of the goals stand out to Strobel, he said. “One is institutional vitality. It’s important for all of our schools to be both vibrant and solid from an administrative and fiscal standpoint.”

Another is maintaining the Catholic identity of the schools, “espousing and championing the very essence of the Catholic experience,” Strobel said.

It’s also important for diocesan schools to build awareness of the value of Catholic education in both the Catholic community and the broader community, Strobel said. 

There are many private and public school options for parents to choose from, he noted. “It’s important for parents to know the real advantages of Catholic education.”

Strobel’s firm conducted a survey of the community’s opinions of Catholic schools for the Schools Office. “It’s clear a lot of people in the geographic boundaries of the diocese don’t really have an awareness of Catholic schools or more importantly the importance and accessibility of Catholic education,” he said.

He was surprised to find that most people surveyed had no opinion either way about Catholic education. “They just didn’t know about it,” Strobel said. 

“Even in our own Catholic community people had questions whether Catholic schools were the best option for their children,” he said. “It’s important for the Catholic Schools Office to continue to promote the advantages of a Catholic education to our entire community, Catholic and non-Catholic.”

Strobel is excited about the prospects for the Advisory Council. “Because of the members’ experience, the Council will be in a good position to move quickly,” he said. “It’s a very engaged and experienced group of people committed to making this Council a very valuable resource for the Catholic Schools Office.” 

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