How does the mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago drive success for both our schools and students? We “know” in our committed hearts that mission is at the core of our success, but can we prove it?

How does the mission of the Archdiocese of Chicago drive success for both our schools and students? We “know” in our committed hearts that mission is at the core of our success, but can we prove it?

The Mission

Like all schools and school systems, the mission and vision statements, plastered on every publication, serve as guidance and conscience to the work of our 244 elementary and secondary schools in Lake and Cook Counties. Condensing those myriad public statements into sharp focus was probably best done by Cardinal Francis George in a letter to donors. He simply called the schools to be “centers of learning in a community of love.”

For years, the Catholic schools’ brand was largely seen as faith and scholarship, two distinct strands to be measured and weighed. In reality, the academic excellence is largely a result of a faith-filled culture that reverences each student and demands the use of God-given talent. Measuring service and worship (and eternal life) can be a slippery slope, but the results of students being surrounded in a culture of prayer, respect, discipline and generosity has enduring impact. The shared expectations of parents, community and teachers — a centering on the mission in service to the future — is the key to Catholic school success in the Archdiocese of Chicago and (I would expect) elsewhere.

A common mission is identifiable across Catholic Schools in the United States. The logo of the National Catholic Educational Association, flames representing the light of the Holy Spirit flowing through its educators, speaks to a shared vision. However, every diocese carries its mission with a different “flavor,” and every school site is unique. Local ownership of mission is the hallmark of subsidiarity; local branding is encouraged and expected.

The Measure

Given the wide latitude allowed each site in terms of their charism (gift to the people of God), there are still general criteria and best practice for each Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Chicago to meet. Current governance models dictate that our Catholic schools who are accountable to their sponsoring religious communities and boards be given the most flexibility; those sponsored directly by the Archdiocese are accountable to the Archbishop through the Office of Catholic Schools.

Measuring this best practice has a long history. Long before applying as a candidate for AdvancED School System Accreditation, the schools sponsored by the Archdiocese were recognized by the State of Illinois (This will continue and will remain a separate process.). In addition, the Office of Catholic Schools’ Genesis School Improvement Plan was used to evaluate school quality. Genesis measured three areas of school performance: Catholicity, Academics and Vitality. While many dioceses choose to retain their own accreditation process, we chose to “baptize” AdvancED. The electronic platform, the requirement for aligned data and artifacts, the use of an “outside” trained team, the incorporation of the National Catholic Standards and Benchmarks, the opportunity to walk all schools though the process at once, and the emphasis on teaching and learning made AdvancED a solid choice for us.

Within the AdvancED framework, Genesis found a measurable home:


  • Solid surveys for school climate and culture
  • Probing questions around teacher qualifications and curriculum
  • Student behavior and service metrics


  • Analysis of Terra Nova Scores (grades 3,5,7), disaggregated by region, reflecting economics
  • Break-down of 8th grade EXPLORE scores in all categories for early high school intervention
  • Mandated ACT for high schools


  • Study of governance models that best fit local realities
  • Renewed enrollment growth
  • Scholarships with generous donors and a planned capital campaign to fund them

The demand for the data is important to us. With all seventh graders in every elementary school taking the Terra Nova Test, only one school has a composite score (and for it, just barely) below the national average. Our mission of service and excellence to families says that is not good enough: we still need to do a better job of moving schools into the “exemplary” category.

From System to Student

Our mission is to educate each student, to provide schools in which God-given talents can be fully developed in service. Getting to the individual student growth data is still a work in progress, despite the analysis being performed by schools at the local level. The long over-due full implementation of a student information system in 2015 will allow the schools and the “central office” to more clearly examine both school trends and student growth.

Getting to the individual student growth data is still a work in progress, despite the analysis being performed by schools at the local level.

In general, we can measure our progress with cohorts longitudinally and with assessment “snapshots.” We know the Terra Nova scores (mandated testing at grades 3, 5 and 7) are well above average, the eighth grade EXPLORE is at the eighty-second percentile and ACT composite for 40 very different high schools is at 23.1, but we need to do a better job with each student and every area of study.

Having our young people “college and career ready” is embedded in the mission of both elementary and high school. University studies that tracked the individual performance of our grade school students showed that the longer a student is in the “district” of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the more dramatic the improvement.  (Hallinan, Maureen T. and Warren N. Kubitschek. 2010. “School Sector, School Poverty, and the Catholic School Advantage.” Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice 14(2): 143-172.)

From each school’s annual school report, data is collected not only in terms of summative test scores but in other areas relevant to mission: hours of service, engagement in the community, participation in technology, before and after school enrichment, global outreach. The AdvancED stakeholder surveys will bring together data relevant to Catholic Identity and parental satisfaction, going beyond the current school surveys in depth and scope. Measuring “centers of learning and communities of love” is not merely a central office task, but a local responsibility.

AdvancED processes should help us dig even deeper into academic benchmarks. Resting on the laurels of 75 U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon schools will not bring all of our schools into alignment with our mission. While what we do is excellent, there is more to be done….because there is a mission that simply does not quit, a mission that calls a network of engaged adults to impact the life of every child of God in the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Sr. M. Paul McCaughey has teaching experience on the elementary and secondary levels, serving as a high school principal and president for over 20 years. For the last five years she has been the Superintendent of the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the largest Catholic school system in the country. She holds graduate degrees from St. Louis University and the University of Notre Dame (UND) and administrative certification through DePaul University. Her work has been recognized by the NCEA, AdvancED Illinois, Louis University, Dominican University and the UND Alumni of Springfield. She is recently most proud of the growth of enrollment in Chicago.