St. Theodore school looks to strengthen standingPublished 9:56am Monday, August 18, 2014
Guest Column by Matt Benda
St. Theodore Catholic School continues to provide quality and compassionate educational opportunities for children in the Albert Lea area. For the 2013-2014 school year, the school continued in its growth by strengthening our existing programs and reflecting upon its role in the community.
As part of this reflective effort, several comprehensive surveys were conducted to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the school. Over 100 individuals were surveyed including existing parents and stakeholders. In addition, the key demographic of Catholic families that elected to not send their children to the school were also surveyed.
Greater than 94 percent all respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the mission and philosophy of the school were well-founded for education today. Greater than 92 percent of all respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the overall goals of St. Theodore school are well targeted for now and the future. These results indicate that all stakeholders believe in the mission and goals of the school and feel that Catholic education is relevant and necessary in our community.
The results were mixed on the question of whether St. Theodore school was highly regarded in the community. Stakeholders and existing parents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement by over 70 percent. Only 50 percent of the Catholic parents who did not send their children to the school agreed with this statement; with 38 percent neutral and 12 percent disagreeing with this statement. These results send a clear message that the school needs to continue to strive for greater excellence and improve our standing in the community.
Another central theme of the survey results was that the school needed to tell its story better. The school has implemented regular updates, has a presence on the Internet at www.sttheo.org and an active Facebook page. Increased communication efforts will continue into next school year.
In addition, the children were also surveyed and they agreed that the school mission, philosophy, and goals were easy to understand and follow. They also felt that the school provided a safe place to learn, a staff that helps students to grow and learn, and the parents were welcome in the school. Several of the students commented on the kind and caring teachers and how they made it fun to learn.
The school has now had the chance to benefit from the thoughtful guidance of Principal Sue Amundson. After 18 years in the St. Theodore’s classroom, Principal Amundson now leads the school as its chief administrator. Sue has a wonderful rapport with the students, the teachers, the parents and the community as a whole. Under her leadership, the school continues to strengthen its place in the Albert Lea community.
New pre-K program
St. Theodore Catholic School has an operating pre-kindergarten program that offers educational opportunities every school day from 8:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. St. Theodore staff created the pre-kindergarten program, and it was granted a license on Jan. 27 of this year. On Feb. 18, the doors opened for the first day of school for children who were 4 years old by Sept. 1, 2013.
Lunch program audit
St. Theodore’s hot lunch program was audited this year to make sure state standards were being met. The audit required a health inspection of the kitchen twice a year to ensure the students are getting well balanced meals that meet the nutritional guidelines. St. Theodore school is now 6-cent certified, which will help to fund the meals served in the upcoming year.
Catholic schools have a long tradition of providing educational opportunities for all faiths (11 percent of our students were not Catholic) and all economic backgrounds. Last year alone, the school granted over $40,000 in tuition assistance to its students. This program is designed to provide all students with the benefits of this education. This program rivals any in the area. Assistance is tied to the free and reduced lunch program qualifications. Forty-eight percent of the students qualified for this program for the 2013-2014 school year.
Following a long tradition in Catholic education, St. Theodore School provides four R’s, rather than three — Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and Religion. Religion plays an instrumental role in school programing. This curriculum goes beyond memorizing the saints and Bible verses. Students are encouraged to live like Jesus taught, “Enlivened by the spirit of freedom and charity.” Families and children of all faiths are welcome to learn how to be a person rooted in the community.
All students also receive unique programs in Spanish, music and art — as well as advanced experiences through field trips and the spelling bee. St. Theodore students continue to lead the pack in the local science fair competition. Students continue to perform acts of kindness through various activities, including regular contact with senior citizens at the nursing homes, tree planting and other acts of kindness.
Monthly, the Parents and Kids Eat Together (PAKET) program occurs where parents and students share lunch and exchange information. The school community considers our children our greatest treasure and allows families to spend time with others that feel the same way.
St. Theodore graduates continue to excel after they graduate. Over 70 percent of the St. Theodore graduates in this year’s Albert Lea High School junior and senior classes were on the honor roll. Nine alumni made the straight-A honor roll. This trend continued through all grades and into the middle school.
One stakeholder surveyed commented, “My son was a student at St. Theo from kindergarten through sixth grade. I feel he received an excellent education and has been on the A honor roll in public school so he was certainly well prepared. I believe he has a stronger sense of responsibility to the community and others around him due to the emphasis placed on God and our responsibility to our neighbors.”
St. Theodore Catholic School’s place in the community continues to grow. Having alternative educational opportunities is crucial in a thriving community. Current families and the parish community deserve a big thank you for their ongoing commitment to the school. New families interested in being part of this unique school community are actively being solicited. St. Theodore Catholic School continues to teach students the value of community and quality education and invite others to join in this journey.
Matt Benda is the chairman of the St. Theodore Catholic School Board.