For Catholic schools spread widely across south Georgia, teacher collaboration has taken a new direction with the aid of a top Catholic university and an online platform for rewriting the student curriculum.
St. Mary on the Hill and all schools in the Catholic Diocese of Savannah are joining with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education to help standardize learning objectives.
The alliance’s Collaborative for Academic Excellence has helped several dioceses across the nation strengthen instruction in Catholic schools. Work began last summer with the Savannah diocese, which is celebrating National Catholic Schools Week through Saturday.
This year, the theme for Catholic Schools Week is Catholic Schools Raise the Standards. It coincides with a document published last year that studied the effectiveness of Catholic education and supported curriculum development consistent with national and Common Core State standards.
The alliance instructs school administrators and teachers to design the new curriculum by working on a school and city level but also sharing ideas and submitting feedback online between schools in different cities. With the Savannah diocese covering 90 south Georgia counties, school collaboration was limited unlike a public school district that can meet more regularly, said St. Mary Principal Joe McBride.
“There can be sharing and collaboration between a teacher in Savannah and a teacher down in Columbus,” McBride said. “You have so many teachers and you can create a pool of resources that we had but we didn’t take advantage of before.”
Also, the diocese can review examples of best practices from other dioceses that joined with the alliance, McBride said. The alliance offers research and expertise that supplements the limited resources at some Catholic schools.
The curriculum redesign urges teacher participation rather than a committee making all the decisions for teacher instruction in the classroom. The alliance’s method should result in improved teacher investment in student achievement, said St. Mary Vice Principal Mary Beth Mitchell.
“Before, (a teacher) would get handed a binder, and here is the curriculum, teach it,” Mitchell said. “It’s a little bit harder to be invested in that than when you have been involved in the process of creating it.”
The curriculum rewrite starts with identifying achievement goals, then developing key concepts and topic areas.
After one year of redesign for each school subject, alliance leaders and diocesan teachers and administrators continue to tweak the curriculum during the first year of implementing the new lesson plans.
“From the very beginning to the very end, it’s teacher- and student-focused,” McBride said.