Michelle Griepsma (far left) stands with classmates, instructor Richard Shields and course manager Carol Devine (back row) following the convocation ceremony for the Certificate in Catholic School Governance program. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Catholic governance course has its first graduates

By 
  • November 5, 2013

TORONTO - Graduation time has come for the first crop of the Certificate in Catholic School Governance continuing education course offered to Ontario's Catholic school trustees.

On Nov. 2 graduates from the program, a joint effort between the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) and Toronto's University of St. Michael's College, gathered at St. Basil's Church for their convocation.

The course, which officially began in January 2011, came as a response to suggestions at OCSTA that some trustees desired a deeper, more formal professional development opportunity than what had already been offered in the province. Traditionally trustees receive professional development through short-term workshops.

Michelle Griepsma, a trustee from the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, is one of those trustees seeking more. 

"It was wonderful," she said. "It was challenging, it forced me to stretch my understanding, it deepened my understanding of the role of the school in the mission of the Church (and) I got to speak with trustees on a really deep level from across the province. It was just great."

Griepsma graduated with seven other trustees from across the province, including Toronto Catholic District School Board chair Ann Andrachuk, former chair of Halton Catholic board Alice Anne LeMay and Durham's Christopher Leahy. Of the seven trustees, five were present for the ceremony.

The course was offered primarily online where students would complete on average one reading a month and have regular discussions with classmates through the university's blackboard.com web site. It sought to deepen the participants understanding of the role of a Catholic trustee by exploring specific areas of governance through a Catholic lens.

"It really sort of speaks to the level of responsibilities and the unique focus of Catholic trustees and the very important purpose in regard to the work that our Catholic trustees do which goes above and beyond the generic," said Carol Devine, program manager for the course's inaugural run. "So many times I hear about some trustees saying, 'Well I don't even know why I bother running because I don't have anything left to do, the government is taking over this that and the other thing,' but I think this course really extenuates the very unique and significant role that a Catholic trustee is to play in being part of the mission of the Church and also ensures that our systems continue to be strongly Catholic and meet the needs of Catholic parents."

Richard Shields, a professor from the university's pastoral theology department, was the course instructor. In addition to assigning the readings and facilitating the discussions, Shields also assisted the participants in developing their final project.

The projects were "expected (to) bring about specific improvement and make a tangible contribution to some aspect of Catholic school governance that is theologically sound and futures the purpose of Catholic education," according to course material.

Projects included the development of a resource introducing new trustees to their role and responsibilities as a Catholic trustee, the evolution of the goals outlined in a board's strategic plan and a survey of parents of Grade 8 students seeking to determine what factors are considered when selecting a high school for their children.
Griepsma conducted the survey.

"The project was very exciting to me because in my area we have one Catholic secondary and five Catholic elementary feeder schools and I've noticed a decline in the enrolment at the high school, so I wanted to look at what the factors were that parents were taking into consideration when they were choosing a high school for their son or daughter," she said. "First of all we found out that programming was definitely on parents' minds. We also found out that a continuation of Catholic education was important as well."

Once approved by Shields and completed, the projects were to be presented by the trustees to their respective board as the final component of the course.

It hasn't been determined if the course will be offered a second time.

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