By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Superintendent Dr. Dan Peters. Associate Superintendent Pat Burbach. Office Manager Chris Ostrom. Administrative tech assistant LeAnn Lakin.
That’s it. That is the entire central administration staff of the diocesan Catholic Schools Office, charged with overseeing the education of some 9,000 students in 27 elementary schools, eight free-standing early childhood education centers and three diocesan high schools and four private Catholic high schools, covering an area ranging from Maryville to Nevada, from Kansas City to Chillicothe.
How can so much be accomplished by so few? Teamwork, said Peters. With a capital “T.”
“We make up the difference with the quality of our people, our principals and teachers,” Peters said. “They are willing to work well and efficiently together, and with some long hours.”
Peters will also quickly throw in what he considers the biggest factor in the success of Catholic schools.
“Parents,” he said. “Parent involvement and parent concern are No. 1. A very close second and third is the quality and dedication of our teachers and administrators. But our parents are No. 1.”
The results are brag-worthy.
In last annual Report Card for Catholic Schools Week in January, the Catholic Schools Office reported that Catholic school students are performing better than at least 80 percent of all students nationwide who take the standardized Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and in all tested areas — math, language, social studies and science.
Students graduating from Catholic high schools are not only prepared for college, but 98 percent of them will go directly to post-secondary education, either to a community college or to a university, upon graduation.
And faith is never left behind. Even compared to the nation’s Catholic school students, the students enrolled in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are outperforming in the national Assessment of Catholic Religious Education, which not only measures what the students have learned about the Catholic faith, but how well they put that knowledge into action.
But even “great” is never good enough, Peters said. Catholic schools are constantly looking for improvement, constantly reviewing curricula, and constantly looking for ways to make great teachers better and great students the leaders of tomorrow in a rapidly changing world.
“We are only able to do that because our principals and our teachers would step up and take on much of that work,” Peters said. “If they hadn’t, we’d be in a world of hurt.”
A major project underway now, that has administrators, principals and teachers burning the midnight oil is a fundamental advancement in education that stresses more than just simply learning information to answer test questions.
“We are getting beyond those more lower-level kinds of thinking — regurgitation and rote learning — into learning and applying what you have learned,” Peters said. “We want our kids to take what they have learned and do something with it.”
But make no mistake, he said. Catholic schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will always chart their own course, evaluating and re-evaluating, as it continues to educate students not only in the secular skills they will need to compete, but in the faith that will sustain them their entire lives.
“We have our own set of standards, and we will always decide our own curricula,” he said.
As far as the people who make up his entire staff, Peters said he couldn’t be happier.
“Pat (Burbach) is wonderful,” he said. “She works well with pastors and principals. I haven’t found anyone who has ever said a negative thing about her.”
“Chris (Ostrom) keeps everything going,” Peters said. “She makes sure that all the events we do, and everything we need to get done, gets done, and all the details are taken care of. And she does everything to get that done.”
“LeAnn (Lakin) has a lot of technology skills,” he said. “She was in charge of getting ‘Constant Contact’ running, which gives us enrollment and attendance information, and she has written spreadsheet (software) for us. She works hard.”