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St. Michael's Academy unveils five-year strategic plan

Date: 6/6/2013

By Debbie Gardner

SPRINGFIELD — The future of Catholic education in the city of Springfield is gaining a firmer academic and financial footing, thanks to the efforts of a committed group of volunteers and alumni.

On June 3, Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield joined Anne E. Dougal, elementary level principal of St. Michael's Academy (SMA), and Josephine Rodriguez, chairperson of the academy's Strategic Planning Committee to unveil the highlights of an ambitious five-year plan — Ignite and Achieve Excellence: 2017 — designed to advance and strengthen the recognition, financial footing and standards of the city's only remaining Catholic elementary school.

"This plan is the collaborative effort of 85 volunteers, representing the various aspects of the St. Michael's community, parents, grandparents, businesspeople, pastors, pastoral administrators, teachers, and students," Rodriguez said of Ignite and Achieve Excellence: 2017. Their five-month challenge, she added, was to examine every aspect of the four-year-old academy's operations, from academics and enrollment to finances and student life in order to develop strategies and goals for improvement and a sustainable future.

Among the objectives laid out in the strategic plan are an increased focus on math, reading and science scores on all grade levels in order to achieve U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School status and the expansion and enhancement of academic offering at SMA. The plan also calls for development and implementation of a retention and recruitment plans to achieve a maximum enrollment of 100 students per grade level, an increased use of cutting-edge technology to improve learning across grade levels and the development of both long-term fundraising and comprehensive tuition assistance programs in an effort to make an SMA education both world-class and affordable for more students.

Rodriguez also noted the strategic plan has a level of flexibility built into it for example, calling for the purchase of new classroom technology that is portable rather than hard wired into a given classroom allowing the plan to adapt to any potential change in facilities in the future, such as the relocation of the middle school or the entire academy to Surrey Road.

The ultimate goal Rodriguez said, is to "insure the future of St. Michael's Academy, our Catholic school in the city of Springfield."

In 2009, facing declining enrollments at its parish-centered schools, the Diocese consolidated Springfield's five Catholic elementary schools — Holy Name, Holy Cross, Our Lady of Hope, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Mount Carmel — to form St. Michael's Academy. The school, which offers education from the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade level, originally operated on two campuses — with pre-K through fifth grade housed in the former Holy Cross School on Eddywood Street and grades six through eight in a wing of Cathedral High School on Surrey Road — until the June 1, 2011 tornado heavily damaged the Cathedral building. Dougal confirmed that the Eddywood site, which now houses the entire St. Michael's program, had an enrollment of 550 students for the 2012-13 academic year.

Michele D'Amour, herself an alumnus of the former Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School in the city's Pine Point neighborhood, joined the presentation to help announce a fundraising effort to help support the plan for SMA's future — The Fund for St. Michael's Academy — and the D'Amour Challenge for The Fund for St. Michael's Academy to help the effort reach its first-year goal.

Rodriguez said the Fund is hoping to attract 300 donors friends of SMA, alumni of the city's five heritage Catholic schools and their families, as well friends of the academy interested in supporting the future of Catholic education in Springfield with a goal of raising $50,000 in donations for its first year. D'Amour said if the Fund achieves that goal, she and her husband Donald, chief operating officer of Big Y Foods, would donate a matching gift of $50,000.

"Our Lady of Sacred Heart is my heritage school, but [SMA] is, in fact, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, so my commitment is here," D'Amour told Reminder Publications. "It's an important component in the city to have Catholic education offered for its young people. These are our future leaders."

Referring to her remarks during the strategic plan unveiling, which focused on the importance of instilling both faith and reason in young people, D'Amour noted, "You have to have some kind of moral compass to be a productive citizen."

McDonnell said despite the challenges of the past three years — including the relocation of the middle school in the wake of the tornado — he sees a bright future for SMA.

"St. Michael's came together with five schools amalgamated into one, and it has [grown] to where it is a school of excellence right now," McDonnell said following the presentation. "Going into the future, it's going to be a school that will be a beacon for the whole community. The kids are great, the students are magnificent, the faculty is good, the program is excellent and the strategic plan is really going to help to bring everything together and bring it to a higher level even than it is at present."

The bishop added, "The Fund for St. Michael's is going to be a great way to keep [the school] going, and for [alumni] to show thanksgiving for their own education."