January 27, 2006

2006 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Archdiocesan Schools Consortium serves center city

By John Shaughnessy

A framed poster in Connie Zittnan’s office asks the simple question that guides her efforts as the director of the Archdiocesan Schools Consortium: “How can we turn away from the faces of the children?”

Zittnan gave her own answer as she lightly hit a table with her fist—a gesture that stresses the point that she will never turn away from any child because she has seen even those who seemed beyond hope achieve tremendous success.

Like the girl from a difficult family background who came to an Indianapolis center-city Catholic school and went on to become a lawyer.

Or the boy filled with anger and hurt who seemed destined to end up in a gang yet instead found a home and a new focus on life at one of the six Catholic schools that form the consortium.

The Archdiocesan Schools Consortium serves Holy Angels School, Holy Cross Central School, Central Catholic School,

St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy, St. Anthony School and St. Philip Neri School, all in Indianapolis.

“We want them fully prepared to be leaders in their high school settings,” Zittnan said. “We want them to be leaders in the community and role models for those who come behind them.

“There is data to support that when students move through our six consortium schools, the rate of graduation from high school is going to be high,” she said. “Students who start in our consortium schools and move through our Catholic high schools will attend post-secondary education four to seven times that of their counterparts who do not attend our Catholic schools.”

The consortium began in September 2004, driven by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein’s desire to continue to offer a quality Catholic education to center-city students.

The consortium approach complements that desire by helping the six schools operate more efficiently by consolidating and coordinating such areas as finances, maintenance and marketing, according to Tony Watt, the consortium’s chairman of the board.

He said financial support for the consortium schools has come from the archdiocese through generous contributions from corporations, foundations and individuals.

“It’s not just [a sharing of] financial resources but human resources,” Watt said. “One of the goals of the consortium is to extract the principal from non-academic tasks. We’re trying to get more bang for our buck.”

For Zittnan, the program’s greatest return will come as it continues to produce the kind of student success stories that she witnessed for about 10 years as the principal of the school which is now called the St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy. The two schools were merged before the 2002-03 school year.

“There are many cases where children came in at the pre-school or middle school [grades], and they’ve graduated from post-secondary education and they’re now in their careers,” she said. “You have to look at every individual child. If the attention wasn’t given to that child, [he or she] wouldn’t have moved on.”

Zittnan said she often gets questions from people who wonder why the archdiocese has made such a big commitment to the consortium schools when about 75 percent of the students are non-Catholic.

“A lot of times we’ll hear, ‘Why are we in the urban setting when most of the children are not Catholic?’ ” she said. “I say, ‘That’s why we are there.’ We’re Catholic. That’s our mission—serving others. Our faith is why we are there.”

Watt nodded his head and added, “Jesus didn’t separate people. He evangelized to everyone. One of our responsibilities is to help those in need. Many of the children who go to our schools are in need. If we get a child at a young age, we can take them to the road of success in education.”

Both Watt and Zittnan credit the principals, teachers, staff and volunteers at the consortium schools for making a difference in the lives of the students.

They also stress the need for help from volunteers and parishes who aren’t a part of the consortium schools.

“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, we need six villages and the villages beyond—which are the parishes beyond the consortium—to make this happen,” Zittnan said. “We need to get it done.”

(For more information about ways to help the Archdiocesan Schools Consortium serve students, call 317-236-7324 or 800-382-9836, ext. 7324.) †


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