Diocese of Fall River Catholic Schools undergoing a renaissance

Editor’s note: Throughout the diocese, Catholic schools are celebrating Catholic Schools Week and are sharing the extraordinary contributions that they have made across Southeastern Mass. Roger Sullivan, chairman of the Diocese of Fall River’s Central Catholic Schools Board, is inviting
Anchor readers to consider providing their talent, time, and/or treasure to further advance the mission of Catholic school education. 

Should you be willing to serve on a board, volunteer your time, and/or contribute to a Catholic school, please contact Sarah Heaton, director of Enrollment and Marketing for the Diocese of Fall River. You can reach Sarah via email at sheaton@catholicsa.org. To learn more about the Diocese’s Catholic schools, please feel free to go to the Catholic Schools Office’s website: https://www.catholicschoolsalliance.org

FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Diocese of Fall River Catholic schools are undergoing an amazing renaissance. Major school renewal initiatives are resulting in new opportunities for Catholic school students and teachers. Most importantly, these efforts are reshaping the schools’ instructional practices leading to academic gains by students across the diocese.


These exciting initiatives are supported by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. and the Central Catholic Schools Board established by the bishop in 2016. “The generosity of philanthropic support, the commitment of professional staff, and volunteer leadership have been vital to enabling the schools to implement these new efforts,” Roger Sullivan, chairman of the Central Catholic Schools Board, pointed out. 

Some of these key initiatives are blended learning, targeted professional development for math teachers, special education for inclusion, and the newly-adopted MAP student assessments, reported Steve Perla, superintendent of Catholic Schools. In addition to working with teachers to enhance their instructional practice, teachers are also benefiting by participating in discounted graduate courses from a diocesan partnership developed with Bridgewater State University, added Perla. 

Blended Learning, also known as personalized learning, is an integration of face-to-face instruction coupled with online learning experiences. Students are able to engage in learning at their individualized academic level, providing opportunity to work independently and in groups. Coyle and Cassidy High School and Middle School in Taunton is one of the schools that is implementing blended learning. Principal Kathy St. Laurent shared, “Moving into a more personalized, blended learning model of instruction has resulted in many positive areas of growth for students. Students are enjoying the learning experience and teachers are able to better identify gaps and areas for additional focus. We are seeing many positive outcomes as a result of this initiative.” 

A diocesan math initiative was implemented in eight schools and is in its second year. It includes math content workshops for teachers in addition to personalized teacher coaching and summer professional development. Initial assessments are showing solid math achievement in student scores. All Saints Catholic School principal Sue Massoud commented, “Students and teachers are challenged to a deeper understanding of math and have become fluent in their dialog about mathematical concepts. Instruction has moved from memorization to the development of reasoning skills and the expectation that students are able to explain their thinking. At All Saints, transitioning to the new math programs has been successful, due to the coaching provided through the math initiative and the dedication and openness of our teachers. Parents are assisted through on-line materials, as well as updates sent home when new ways of thinking about math are presented in the classroom. Overall, the experience has boosted student learning, allowing math concepts to be accessible to more students than traditional algorithms.”


This year, the diocese shifted to MAP assessments. This student assessment is administered three times per academic year to monitor student success. All schools are now technologically equipped to offer this test online allowing for immediate reporting to teachers. Additional professional development for school leaders and teachers is being provided by Boston College Lynch Leadership Academy. Data walls have been developed that allow for close monitoring and curriculum maps development. This data is being utilized to improve instruction. Dr. Mary Pat Tranter, director of Strategic Initiatives, noted, “The beauty of MAP Growth testing is that it provides principals and teachers with an extensive battery of real-time data that identifies individual student strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are then able to make immediate changes to curriculum, instruction, methodology and assessment to insure that every student has the opportunity to grow academically and achieve his/her potential.” 

Parents can now access much more immediate information about their child’s progress than ever before.

Special education for inclusion has been a priority for the Catholic Schools Office this year. Working with the schools to increase public funding from government programs such as IDEA and Title l, students with mild and moderate disabilities are receiving special education services in our schools. The CSO will continue with a strong focus in this area to better position our schools to serve students who learn differently. 

The CSO will be assessing the impact of these initiatives and will provide an analysis of the impact of these efforts late Spring 2019.

Perla publicly expressed his gratitude to the Carney Family Foundation for their deep partnership which has provided the resources necessary for myriad initiatives including school leaders participating in the Lynch Leadership Academy program and the Emmaus series offered through Boston College, and the comprehensive data driven instruction effort. 

Sullivan shared that the board, in addition to strongly supporting these major academic initiatives, regularly assesses the financial status of each school. The overall goal is to create a complete and accurate financial picture of the entire system of schools as part of the board’s commitment to lead a financially viable system of Catholic schools throughout the Fall River Diocese. In addition, each school has prepared its own strategic three-year plan. 

Sullivan also noted that the “board wanted to ensure that any Catholic school teacher who wanted to send their children to a Catholic school could do so. To that end, the board created a Catholic School Teacher Tuition Abatement Program, funded by the generosity of the Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.” The program is in its first year, and for its continued success, it is completely dependent on the generosity of donors. Our teachers who give so much of themselves to provide a Catholic education to their students are themselves deserving of the opportunity for their own children.

The Catholic Schools Office is thrilled to report that plans are in place to open its very first early learning center in the diocese. The center will be located in Attleboro and will enroll children from eight weeks to three years old. Named “The Little Flower Early Learning Center” in tribute to the life of St. Therese, the center will open this summer. Details and enrollment information will be forthcoming soon.

Looking to the future, the Central Catholic Schools Board looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the Catholic Schools Office to ensure that the diocese’s Catholic schools continue their trajectory of renewal, observed Sullivan. He especially stressed that the board firmly believes that each and every one of the more than 6,000 students of today is the future of our Catholic Church of tomorrow.

As diocesan schools join with Catholic schools across the nation to celebrate Catholic Schools Week this week, those involved with the Catholic Schools Office are grateful to God for the many gifts He has showered upon the school communities, observed Perla. 

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