Viking & Alumni News
Saint Olaf Legacy of ServiceLocal Catholic Recognized for Years of Volunteer Work
Does what we do matter?
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” My dad used to say that often to my sisters and I growing up. I took it to mean, pick yourself up, try again, move, move in any direction. Recently, though, as the phrase came to mind, I thought about running away. I laughed to myself as I thought that maybe when the tough get going, they are just hightailing it outta dodge, because things aren’t working. Have I had it wrong all along? There is inspiration (what we should do) and then there is reality (what we actually do), something relationships like marriage & parenthood, combined with life’s trials beautifully illustrate. I dislike this time of year, likely why I was feeling discouraged and recalled this particular phrase at that moment. I used to dislike January and February because of the horrible inversion and craptacular gray Utah weather. Now, it remains that, plus re-enrollment season here at school. It doesn’t seem to matter how we attempt to roll out re-enrollment, it is difficult, painful, disheartening, and demotivating. So much so, that I wish to run away and not return year after year.
As a semi volunteer, semi employee here at Saint Olaf, I am here because I believe in this school, the community, and Catholic education in general. I believe these small communities are a microcosm of how God desires us to live-in communion with each other and Him, serving, and sharing the hope of Christ, while raising and teaching our children to do the same. In one sense we are a safe place, a compass, a guide, a net, but also we are messy, broken, ordinary people from all walks of life, trying our best to do what God calls us to do, while failing again and again. We are addictions, broken individuals and families, mental and physical illness, and many other things, both beautiful and ugly. The safety here isn't the absence of the realities and failures of life, but instead the constant call to something better, something higher than ourselves, the pursuit of what it is to be Holy. So as we fail, our friends fail, our kids fail-and we each must face the pain and consequences, ideally, we are surrounded by a community that forgives, understands failure, and remains with us as we again pick ourselves up and try again for Holy.
Unfortunately, re-enrollment season highlights two things for us. One, that we are still not this kind of community for many of our families and have failed to live up to our part in some way, whether aware of any issues, or not. Two, we have families not interested in this kind of community and see our school as simply a transactional experience that is expendable at any point. There is little to no relational experience for them. Both of these feel soul crushing to a committed advancement director because I have completely failed to convey what we exist for and why families should care and keep their student(s) here. Through the stress and tears created through these failures and losses, I’m asked why I don’t actually run away.
My answer is that I still believe what happens here matters and is important for all of life for our students and our families. I don’t know that I matter here, or if that question is even relevant in the eternal scheme of things, but this place, this community, this school matters, and it needs representation and people who will fight to preserve it. We need to keep creating and protecting places where community exists-faith filled and honest, ugly, dirty, hard, work it out, live in accountability, forgive, apologize, and keep trying, community. Academics certainly are important, but to steal the words of a brilliant and Godly man, C S Lewis, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make a man into a clever devil.” I want for my children and for all children, an excellent foundation to what will be a lifelong education, AND I want a community that strives for the Holy, respecting, accepting, and serving each other. Those are the skills they will need to serve God and others, while living lives of faith, purpose, and passion.
As you consider your child’s path for next year, and the next, please hear this explanation of why we are here. If this ”why” isn’t your “thing,” we wish God’s richest blessings on your journey, but if we have simply failed in our part of the community we are striving to be, come talk, let us attempt repair and restoration, call us to be and do better and we’ll do the same. And if this sounds like what you might be looking for and you just haven’t plugged in yet, let us help you. As we emerge from this pandemic and begin creating activities and events again, there are a multitude of ways to connect and build fellowship, friendship, and belonging. Regardless of the choices made over the next few months, please also know that we will never stop praying for, serving, and educating children and families and we are richly blessed to have the opportunity to do so, despite wanting to run away now and then.
Consider Pandemic Data, Consider a Private School
If you’ve never considered a private school, now might be the time. Below is the data from a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune concerning Utah public/charter school students and the pandemic.
The article lists many sobering numbers and findings, opening with a quote from author Courtney Tanner:
“Some decline was expected, but the state said it was worse than its worst-case scenarios.”
Literacy rates dipped 5% for kindergartners
Achievement gaps for low income and students of color widened
Math scores saw biggest decline across the board
All data was worse than anticipated-scores went down significantly from 2019
Data was collected from 7 different exams
A significant number of students opted out, mostly from underrepresented backgrounds so data is likely far worse
Largest drops for 6th graders in language arts show a decrease in proficiency of 54%
5th grade math showed a decrease of 39%
Reading benchmark scores dropped for most first graders
1st-3rd graders tested for reading on one exam (pre-pandemic) showed 69% succeeding, but a year later dropped down to 62%
Kindergartners dropped from 71% to 64% on a similar test
The article reiterates again that these dips don’t include non testers so actual scores are likely much worse
“In some cases, we observe over two times the declines in student achievement in Utah compared to the effects attributed to Hurricane Katrina on students from New Orleans.”
Quote from Leslie Keng, Center for Assessment
It’s hard to miss all the education headlines if you are paying attention. The emergency red lights are flashing. In the last day or so, the following two popped up under my news and on my social media and there are so many more every day. It’s a scary time for our nation’s children.
NPR Article entitled “Parents are scrambling after schools suddenly cancel class over staffing and burnout”
New York Times Article entitled “Schools are closing classrooms on Fridays. Parents are Furious”
Lest you think the concerns raised in these two articles don’t apply here or aren't happening in Utah, the New York Times article states... “in Utah, the Canyons School District announced that all of its schools would go remote one Friday a month from November until March, equivalent to more than a week of school.”
I have found myself scratching my head and puzzling over several things as the data pours in. We have had several parents leave our school this fall because of promises from local district or Charter schools that they can do better for students. These are nice promises that obviously prey on the fears and deep concerns parents have for their kids’ education, given all the above stats. However, I’m puzzled because the stats don’t lie. That is the pandemic data-that is where district and charter school students tested. That is the “better,” if anyone is paying attention. Are we, as parents, actually looking at the data or are we listening to sweet words and hopeful promises that can’t and don’t match actual assessment data? Promising extra reading help or a great math program doesn’t really mean anything if students test as they did above. I can’t recommend enough that you carefully look at testing and assessment data and ask despite how great something sounds, is the curriculum, teaching, or program producing measurable results and good data.
Here at Saint Olaf, we endlessly assess and review our data and have been privileged to have excellent teaching paired with solid, result producing, curriculum. We know that part of our success is that we remained open all year for the 2020-21 school year, offering our students an in-person complete academic year. On 3 separate tests: ACT Aspire, Dibels, and HMH Growth Measure Assessments, our student scores went up across the board in ELA/Reading from our 2019 scores. Students improved from 77% (on or above grade level) to over 80%! This is a remarkable feat given the above district data and speaks to that successful combination of being open and in person with effective teaching and solid curriculum. Our Math scores dipped- we had about a 20% dip, the minimum observed nationwide. What is interesting and important is that this dip wasn’t in all classes, many scores went up or held firm. By analyzing the data, the dips were primarily in Middle School and was a trend we watched all year. This then led to a complete revamp of teaching and curriculum. Our start of year to mid year test data is already showing impressive improvement/growth for the 2021-22 school year. We intend to close that gap and recover this year, however ambitious that may be. We consider a 20% dip unacceptable, but also feel relief when we look at the Utah middle school dips of 39-54%.
As a small private school, we can easily pivot as needed and make necessary changes quickly. The data would seem to indicate that in public/charter schools, this is a significant challenge that has yet to be overcome or successful for students. If your student is somewhere lost in the above stats, may I recommend checking out alternatives. Pay close attention to data, discerning those sweet promises by comparing them with the actual school data. Programs, teaching, community-all critical components to student success, however, it's the data that actually shows what students have taken away from those things.
Solid Covid Data Could Mean Good News For Private Schools
This spring, our school administration, like many small private schools nationwide, met to decide whether to apply for the second round of PPP loans or the EANS Grants to help us remain financially solvent in the devastating wake of COVID-19. These are federal funding programs available to all schools as a result of the pandemic. While this may seem like an insignificant thing to be writing about given the emotional, psychological, and physical fatigue to families, students, teachers, and faculty worldwide, the critical nature of the seemingly insignificant is just what has come to light in the pandemic. It certainly has brought many issues to the surface of our national educational pool. Probably any private school right now would report, if asked, that funding adds significantly to the stresses of all other on-going fatigue, during a pandemic and in general. After all, schools that aren’t fully funded can’t pay their teachers and faculty, can’t fund innovation and offer exciting programs, and can’t grow and teach young minds- if they can remain open at all. I have to wonder, does it have to be this way? Are there no tax dollars that can funnel to private schools when not in a global pandemic? If it seems important to help our nation’s private schools now, are we not acknowledging that they serve a purpose in our educational system?
Whether a supporter of private education or not, we do seem to be indicating at this moment that private schools are important in some way. A simple internet search reveals that they do in fact, relieve significant burdens on the public school system by removing students who would otherwise require space and services in often already full classrooms. Especially during the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine how the public schools would have been able to safely remain open and operational if 5.7 million students were suddenly back in the public system (the number of students currently being served in private schools across the US). This number accounts for 10% of students preK-12th grade nationwide. Private Schools also make up 25% of all schools in the US. It would seem rather obvious that keeping private schools open is a national priority involving everyone. If only 10% of private school students went back to public schools, the combined state and local costs would be approximately $6.7 billion. Imagine the public school system scrambling to accommodate the influx of these students they hadn’t previously been responsible for despite having received full funding for them through tax dollars. One must see that Private schools therefore, are quite necessary, helpful, and well worth even a small investment.
One piece of recent Covid data highlights the value of private schools by identifying their more efficient, quicker, and better pivot in several key areas, when facing the unique pandemic demands placed on education. As evaluation of the last academic year has begun, private schools easily beat out public schools in overall parent satisfaction with their student’s education-whether remote, hybrid, or in person. Part of this reason is that private schools were able to switch to remote and hybrid learning systems much more rapidly, saving weeks of student learning in the academic year. This quick pivot allowed more practice with distance/hybrid learning and additional time to make positive and efficient adjustments to the process. Early Covid data showing academic loss tragically follows ethnic and lower socioeconomic lines putting the most disadvantaged students in an even worse position coming out of the pandemic. One summation of educational losses states, “The results are startling. Students on average could lose five to nine months of learning by the end of June 2021. Students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for white students.” (1,2) Any school saving even a few weeks of learning, would offer an advantage to students. Time will tell just how much that advantage is. In addition, private schools were more easily able to offer in-person learning along with, in many cases, more personalized student instruction and one on one time due to smaller class sizes and less educational bureaucratic red tape surrounding pandemic guidelines.
Can any of this emerging data be used for good as we move out of this pandemic? Are there things that need to change for our schools, whether public or private? Many educational experts believe that there are solid answers in the pandemic data, and otherwise. Many, experts and educators, hope it may finally be time that as a nation, we stop having the public or private debate, and begin looking at an educational overhaul that allows many options to survive and thrive in our educational system. We need to define the term thrive, as a new system providing appropriate and solid educational options to each and every student, regardless of neighborhood, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or ability. While his suggestions speak primarily from the private school perspective, one expert’s solution is surprising, in that he isn’t advocating more PPP Loans or bailouts, but instead a more forward thinking plan for the future; one that allows all schools to perform (thrive) for their students and families...
“Because COVID-19 has mainly shuttered already vulnerable institutions, a sustainable solution to the problem of closing private schools is not more one‐off infusions of federal cash. It is for state and local governments to change how they fund education, moving away from putting dollars directly into public schools and allowing them to follow children to the educational options that families choose. Ultimately, what would be best for private schools and society would be a level financial playing field.” Put another way, “The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly demonstrated the need for American education to be much more agile and adaptable to changing and unique circumstances and has shone a light on the way to do that: decentralization, especially by funding students instead of school systems.” (3)
Why are we so invested in this type of solution as a small Private Catholic School? What was most surprising in so much of the research was that private schools do in fact echo Neal McCluskey’s sentiments of not wanting more government funding to “get us through” the Covid times, but rather, wanting an overhaul to the entire broken system of haves and have-nots. We believe strongly in the need for a system where some percentage of each student’s educational dollars can follow them, no matter which school parents select. Instead of being pitted against our local public schools, while endlessly worrying about finances and how we can offer more with less, it makes good sense to continue to remove part of the burden on public schools by servicing some of those students while at the same time, having the funds to do so. What do we tell our most disadvantaged students nationwide? What is the solution for them? They continue on in the public schools that left them behind and underserved to begin with, and now have an even bigger academic hurdle to jump over? As Catholic Schools, we firmly believe that every student deserves a Catholic education and we work hard to provide that, often when the tuition dollars are not there from our disadvantaged families. Our commitment to students and families is unwavering. It is our mission.
While, there will always be elite schools with pricey tuition that only few can access, as a Catholic School and system, that is hardly our model. Catholic Schools were founded to serve those in the faith and those whose needs are not met in other educational systems. This means, we serve the underserved, the behind, those on the margins, and those in need. Families often can’t pay tuition or pay what they can, hence the endless funding gap cycles in our schools. If the overall educational system was working for ALL students, there would be no need for private schools, which is simply not the case. It is okay to acknowledge that public schools can’t serve everyone, no single path can. And, one could easily argue, the pandemic data would look very different if the public school system was truly a one size works equally well for all.
We need to start having these conversations in our homes, as we talk to neighbors, as we make decisions on charitable giving, and as we vote. Do we really as a society wish to continue to pour all educational dollars into a system that while available to all, leaves many behind, disadvantaged, and/or underserved? Nationwide we can do better. Please start or keep having conversations and investigating how well schools in your area are truly serving their students-really look at the data. Look at the public schools and the local private schools. See what you find. Until the day finally arrives that funds, at least in part, can follow students into schools truly serving every one of them, we are left in the endless shortfall cycle. We will always remain true to our mission and will continue to serve all those students who desire a Catholic Education regardless of ability to pay. However, ending the lack of funding cycle and its stressors would allow so many small private schools to focus solely on the critical work of educating every student well, which after all, we believe is the point.
1 McCluskey, Neal. “Private Schooling after a Year of COVID-19: How the Private Sector Has Fared and How to Keep It Healthy,” Policy Analysis no. 914, Cato Institute, Washington, DC, April 13, 2021. https://doi.org/10.36009/PA.914.
Read Across America Week at Saint Olaf
“There is no system in the world or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools”
Read any of Ken Robinson’s books, watch a TED talk or two, or follow his work and you're sure to be inspired by his lofty goals for education reform and strong belief in teachers as key leaders of this much needed reform. He excites audiences by showing what could be possible in the academic world for students. So while this year especially, it has been easy to get ground down by the stressors of daily life in school, his reminder that teachers are our lifeblood is important and necessary. When teachers are on fire, inspiration flows from our schools.
We recently experienced firsthand that inspiration flowing here at Saint Olaf Catholic School in Bountiful, Utah. Our 4th grade Teacher, Ms. Kelli-Ann Allen and her colleague, librarian and art teacher Mrs. Kathy Dorich took the entire student body on an odyssey through their own version of Read Across America Week. Although this national program was created in 1998 in conjunction with Dr. Suess’s birthday on March 2, the program has blossomed into and encourages reading all year long, as it is critical to all learning.
Here, at Saint Olaf, Ms. Allen started our own version of Read Across America several years ago, keeping the original week long celebration in March. In non pandemic years, Ms. Allen has had donuts with grandparent/parent reading buddies, invited parents and community guests to read with and to students throughout the week, offered before and after school snacks paired with reading time, had students read to other grades and with each other, snuggled in the library, or in corners of their classroom. She incorporated games, art projects and class/school challenges into the week. Students and parents alike also participated in an all school book exchange where each day of the week, a book could be donated and another chosen, refreshing home libraries.
However, with the pandemic, Ms. Allen and Mrs. Dorich knew this year would look different and would need to be creative and fun in its own socially distanced way. Students need exciting things to look forward to, and to not lose all “special” activities due to COVID-19. So where there had been parent, family, student, and community close contact interactions, this year the presentations, reading, and activities would need to be spaced. It was an amazing coincidence or perhaps divine inspiration that Saint Olaf had recently caught the attention of the NCEA and catholicmom.com, with a representative contacting the school to see about a possible working partnership.
What followed were several weeks of conversations and emails between our Principal, Simon McFall, these 2 teachers, and multiple authors, including a very well-known and accomplished illustrator and Saint Olaf Alumni, Pete Oswald. Although he wasn’t able to join us via zoom for Read Across America Week, we are thrilled to have reconnected and look forward to future projects in the works. We were able to set up zoom presentations with 5 Catholic/Christian Authors, also all very accomplished and published through Paraclete Press, and 1 local Utah Author. Not only did 6 authors do zoom presentations with our students throughout the week, they sent multiple copies of their books to be distributed to students. Lisa Hendey, creator of Catholic.mom.com led a mini retreat for our staff on Friday, closing out a full and fabulous week. Our Author guest list was as follows:
- Jon M Sweeney, The Pope's Cat
- John Gray, Keller's Heart
- Lisa Hendey, I'm a Saint in the Making
- Laura Alary, Breathe, A Child's Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time
- Karen Kiefer, Drawing God
- J Scott Savage, The Mysteries of Cove Series
Other activities students participated in included designing or redesigning favorite book covers, dressing as favorite characters or authors, playing a week long Bingo game-encouraging daily reading and storytelling at all levels, and a fantastical scavenger/trivia treasure hunt campus wide. Ms. Allen and Mrs. Dorich would love to see the program grow every year, with more to look forward to. Ms. Allen’s students also participate in a reading program all year, where they must select books from every literary genre, trying them out. Both teachers report wanting to make this year extra special because of the extra burdens students and families have felt. However, truth be told, these exceptional teachers are always doing more, pushing for something new and different. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these teachers and many other teachers working with our students. With more than 80% of our students reading on or above grade level, the inspiration of our teachers is flowing stronger than ever!
Saint Olaf Catholic School Remains in the News!
A Testimony to the Strength & Endurance of Catholic Education
IS YOUR STUDENT EQUIPPED? How Saint Olaf Catholic School handles COVID-19
How are our local schools dealing with the present COVID-19 crisis? Are we meeting this challenge to our educational system? Is this destined to be the lost quarter for students globally? We toss these questions around endlessly at Saint Olaf Catholic School. This past fall, before there was COVID-19, we changed our logo and created a motto. While we spent much time evaluating our ethos and how to best capture that in two symbols, we had no idea how intensely significant these new symbols would become as we seek to save precious academic and social/emotional time for our school, our students, and families during a global pandemic.
We started with ideals that seem to register with all parents: college prep, solid academics, and leadership. We do offer and value these, however, we offer more. While students pre K-12 are technically only our responsibility through their senior year, we are not just a school-we are a community of faith, a responsibility we take very seriously. Our faith compels us to focus on the development of the complete student, not solely their K-12 career. We are attempting to prepare and equip our students for the entirety of life, far beyond the school years, while also equipping them for today. The hard truth is that not every child is going to be a leader, an A student, or even attend college, however, every child can be equipped to deal with life’s highs and lows while developing their own individual talents, and learning to live in a Christ-like manner.
In this strange and unusual time of social distancing, evaluations naturally take place. What is really important to me and my family. What have I lost that I deeply care about and miss? What loss has been “no big deal” or a “blessing in disguise?” We share our school process and evaluations as encouragement to others to intentionally lean into this time, process your evaluations, and prioritize maybe again what has value. Possibly ask, “who is my school, what do they say they offer vs what do they provide?” What do I ultimately want for my student?
At Saint Olaf we traded a solitary male Viking logo for a Viking ship on an ocean’s journey. The ship is a symbol that includes everyone. On a ship, we all have a job to do based on our individual skills and talents. We journey together going our separate ways when the final destination is reached. The voyage will be rough and exciting as we grow together. Our selected motto is Strength & Endurance. Our Principal, Mr. McFall, uses three key words to describe instruction. We develop learners who are endlessly curious about all things, resilient to face life’s ups and downs, and deeply faith-filled, kindly serving those around them. As the ideals of these 3 words are used to shape our students, they depart our ship equipped to face present trials and unknown futures.
So how are we at Saint Olaf Catholic School facing this turbulent moment? We face COVID-19 in the same way we have faced every day, with the Strength & Endurance we have built brick by brick, layer by layer. We honor our students’ academic year by seeing it through to its completion, even when we are weary, scared, and overwhelmed. We spend hours in early March prepping student work and moving to on-line platforms as we learn & adapt them. We plan creative ways to keep even our specials like Music, Spanish, and Art going. We use Zoom meetings and other platforms to connect and prepare staff and engage with our parents, equipping them for the coming storm. We remain in the ship, completing this portion of a very important journey for our children as they will never get this year back. The students at Saint Olaf finish the 2019-20 school year in its totality. They will return in the fall equipped to move forward in the next grade level. We will continue on together, stronger, having endured something unprecedented for our time. Our logo and motto have truly become our inspiration, urging us forward into new waters. Our hope and prayer is that each and every student’s academic year can somehow be honored and completed as the wave of COVID-19 washes over the entire globe.