‘I was brought to this earth to bring joy to the students I teach,” one Catholic school teacher testified at a prayer service at St. Anthony School in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. “A successful Catholic school teacher,” Ms. Turner said, “gives herself to others and to Christ.”
The occasion was a visit from the Alliance for Catholic Education, a project of the University of Notre Dame, which aims to “sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools” by educating teachers in academic excellence, spiritual rigor, and community so that they can effectively work in inner-city Catholic schools. ACE’s bus tour stopped at St. Anthony School to award Cardinal Donald Wuerl for his commitment to Catholic education, particularly in D.C.’s poorest and most dangerous areas.
Tonight in New York City, the Manhattan Institute will honor Father Timothy Scully, another man committed to Catholic education. He’s being awarded the William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship for founding, building, and leading ACE and its “teachers for the poor.” Fr. Scully talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about ACE and Catholic education.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What is the ACE difference in terms of innovation?
FR. TIMOTHY SCULLY: One of the reasons that the Alliance for Catholic Education is in a unique position within the education-reform movement at the university level is because Notre Dame does not have a traditional school of education. This has given us the freedom and flexibility to respond creatively to local and national needs with a vast network of resources and to engage a broader network of stakeholders. The alliances we’ve formed with dioceses, other universities, and within our own Notre Dame network have allowed us to address the needs we’ve identified quickly to ensure results that will benefit our students immediately.
LOPEZ: Who is an ACE teacher? What makes him or her different?
FR. SCULLY: It’s difficult to answer the question of who an ACE teacher is. As I think about our community, there are just so many deeply committed, exceptionally talented and fun — but incredibly different — identities and backgrounds in that group. If there’s one universal feature, it would have to be what you might call a “whatever it takes” spirit. It’s just amazing to see the lengths to which these young people go to unlock the potential of the kids with whom they work.
I sometimes worry that there’s been a bit of a loss of what you might call the “romantic imagination” among college students. I’m concerned that some of these young people are trying to script every move from freshman orientation all the way through graduation. ACE teachers tend to be different on that count. They’re adventurous spirits, and they love to have a good time. They’re enchanted by the idea that they can leverage their college education in such a way so as to become the best teacher a group of students may ever have.
LOPEZ: What is ACE’s greatest success story?
FR. SCULLY: We prefer not to think in terms of “success stories#…#” The minute you think you have a “success story” is the minute you risk complacency and even a touch of hubris. But we have experienced some exciting new opportunities and challenges lately! We’ve developed a university-school partnership model called the Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA). Our aspiration for NDAA is to provide a Catholic education of the highest quality to as many children as possible in under-resourced communities. It involves unique governance structures, a relentless focus on maximizing participation in parental-choice programs, and a comprehensive framework of school support in areas such as instructional excellence, stewardship, and Catholic identity. One important element of our model is the availability of public-private partnerships, such as state tax credits and vouchers, such as is the case in Arizona and Florida. Just a few years after the launch of the first NDAA in Tucson, we’re seeing some very promising results — both in terms of enrollment and achievement. For example, at St. John the Evangelist — a Catholic school in the sixth poorest city in the nation — the older students are dramatically closing the achievement gap, and the youngest students are among the highest performing (top 10 percent) in the nation. We often like to say that finish line for the students in our NDAA schools is twofold: college and heaven. I’m very excited about the progress we’ve made towards those goals thus far.