Christian Dallavis, working to revitalize Catholic schools – podcastED

Catholic schools used to be neighborhood schools. Many of them served immigrant familes. But since 2000 alone, more than 1,700 have closed in the United States, leaving voids in communities and diminishing school choice options for families who could use them now more than ever. In an effort to change that, the University of Notre Dame is leading a partnership that aims to improve the quality of Catholic schools, particularly for low-income, Hispanic families.

The university’s ACE Academies program began two years ago in Tucson, Arizona and is now rolling out at two schools in Tampa Bay (St. Joseph in Tampa and Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park). In this redefinED podcast, program director Christian Dallavis notes two important statistics: 1) two thirds of practicing Catholics in the U.S. who are under the age of 35 are Hispanic, and 2) only about 50 percent of Hispanic students graduate from high school in four years.

“We see the future of the church is on pace to be kind of radically undereducated,” Dallavis said. But “we also have a solution in that we know Catholic schools often put kids on a path to college in ways that they don’t have other opportunities to do so.”

It’s no coincidence the program came to Arizona and Florida. Both states have large Hispanic populations. Both offer tax credit scholarships to low income students.

“They provide a mechanism that allows Catholic schools and other faith-based schools to sustain their legacy of providing extraordinary educational opportunities to low-income families, immgrant communities, minority children, the people on the margins,” Dallavis said. “We see the tax credit as really providing the opportunity to allow the schools to thrive going into the future.”

But make no mistake. This effort isn’t about quantity. The Notre Dame folks know in this day and age, school quality, whether public or private, is essential – and they’re looking to beef up everything from curriculum to leadership to professional development. Their goal for the kids: College and Heaven. Enjoy the podcast.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at