The results are out on the parish discussion on family life, the parish, leadership in Church and society, Catholic education and clergy and vocations.
Most of the parishes responded (70 per cent) which statistically is a very sound sampling. The two hot topics emerging are ‘the parish’ and ‘catholic education’.
Many had hedged their bets on ‘family life’ but it did not place either first or second. This means the short-term (3–5 years) renewal of the local Church depends heavily on where the parish and Catholic education are heading.
Further discussion is coming to the parishes in a few months based on objectives, activities, responsibility, time frame, resources, success indicators and outcome. In the meantime, we can make a few provisional remarks in light of the challenges ahead.
The parish and the primary schools ought to be seen as closely connected as they were decades ago. Too often schools and parish operate independently of each other; the school is not an appendage to the parish.
If there is one or more in the parish it/they are an integral part of it and not only the principal and manager must know what is going on in them but the wider parish too.
Take for instance the recently released SEA results. All managers should have seen the results as they pertain to their schools; if they have not, how many principals have called their managers about the results and invited them to review it with them?
We know we have many primary schools on ‘academic watch’—they are not coming up to scratch on the National Tests. One mantra given as a reason for this is teachers need to have parents on board with them to engender greater success.
This is supported by copious research. Parental involvement raises the calibre of any school. If this is so, tons of children from East Port of Spain and similar environs are destined for the dark corridors of gangland city because their parents are just not going to be there.
It was therefore refreshing to hear another model, also backed up by research, that children improve considerably under the influence of a significant other/others in their lives—a relative who is a diehard for education, a priest or religious, dedicated teachers at school, not to mention a whole range of stakeholders that can come from the parish—businessmen/women, police and fire fighters, catechists and teachers, past pupils still waiting on jobs, experts in special education, therapists/counsellors to deal with trauma in children, and sharp-eyed experts who can spot learning difficulties associated with autism and related conditions.
Many parishes can provide at least some of these experts but often there is little interaction between parish and school on these matters.
The Catholic Education Board of Management has also not been alerting parishes on many of the good things they are doing in the background. All these sectors must be working hand in hand and not appear to be guarding their turf.
We should even consider giving up some of our high performing primary schools to government in a preferential option for the weaker ones. Otherwise we give the impression we have left the black hen chickens to fend for themselves.