New year begins for diocese’s 22 Catholic schools

By Peggy Moraczewski

Since 1866, when the Sisters of Divine Providence founded the Cathedral School of St. Mary, Central Texas families have chosen Catholic education for their children.
Nearly 150 years later, Dr. Ned Vanders, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Austin, oversees 22 schools: 16 elementary and six high schools. Vanders takes this responsibility to heart. 
“Catholic schools are committed to catechesis and evangelization. We are living in a media driven society, which bombards us with a great deal of information. Our schools provide an education that teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of strong moral values,” he said. 
Teaching techniques have evolved tremendously. Catholic high school students are challenged in Advance Placement classes and offered the opportunity to earn college credits by taking dual credit courses in a variety of subjects. Academics, athletics and fine arts are blended with the Catholic faith in every school.
Catholic schools are also embracing technologies, such as one-to-one iPad programs, bring-your-own device programs, Chromebooks, Smart Boards and e-textbooks. While technology enhances learning, Becky Kirkland, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in Killeen, said early reading skills are basic to the success of every student. 
“My goal is to make reading a lifetime adventure for the students,” she said. This year, St. Joseph students in Kindergarten through second grade are learning to read with the help of a new comprehensive reading program called “Superkids.” 
Catholic faith is infused into the life of each of the schools. Students attend weekly Mass and teachers incorporate the Gospel values into daily lesson plans. One example is St. Louis Catholic School in Waco that recently launched its school theme, the Communion of Saints. 
“The theme runs throughout our hallways this year enhanced by artwork produced by the students,” said Principal Nisa Lagle. One of these hallways leads to the new chapel, a former classroom transformed with the help of Father Justin Nguyen while he was the associate pastor at St. Louis Parish. 
Several schools are also experiencing growth. St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin now offers three sections of Kindergarten through seventh grade. Santa Cruz Catholic School in Buda added two sections in third grade this year and celebrated the graduation of its first eighth grade class in May 2014. 
Susan Flanagan, principal at Santa Cruz, said the school 
will break ground in November on a two-story addition. 
It will house eight classrooms, including dedicated science, music and art classrooms; completion is scheduled for August 2015.
Several schools are recognizing milestone anniversaries this year. St. Joseph Catholic School in Bryan (established in 1894), St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption Catholic School in West (established in 1899), Reicher Catholic High School in Waco (established in 1954), and St. Michael’s Catholic Academy in Austin (established in 1984) are proudly celebrating a combined 325 years of Catholic education in the Diocese of Austin.  
Preliminary statistics indicate that more than 5,200 students are attending Catholic schools within the Diocese of Austin this year. 
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