Having just finished your article on the Gesu School in Philadelphia (“A Spiritual Investment,” Feb. 23, 2005), I felt a flood of recognition and warmth from my experiences in Roman Catholic schools. Though I am currently a public school superintendent, I spent much of my career teaching, coaching, and administrating in Catholic schools.
The dedication and commitment of the employees of these schools is difficult for many to understand. This is not an indictment of the wonderful, dedicated people in public schools, but there is a quantum difference in the commitment of Catholic-school people, in that many of them see their work as a holy mission. Why else would people work so hard to raise the funds to keep their schools in existence and then work so devotedly to educate children?
Those who support public schools do not need to feel threatened by the success of such schools, and private school supporters should not demean the contributions of public schools. Both are necessary. Who among us honestly believes that if these same inner-city kids at Gesu School were in a public school in the same building, with $5,200 per student being spent on them, 95 percent of them would eventually graduate from high school? You can’t argue with this kind of success.
If we truly are committed to the education of young people, we shouldn’t be pitting public schools against private schools. We should understand that there is a role for each, and that we need to cooperate in whatever ways we can.
We are all the better for the existence of Gesu School, because the children from the projects of North Philadelphia that it educates now have a chance to be successful contributors to society. These kinds of schools are rare, and we should not begrudge any child the chance to attend them, regardless of where the funding comes from.
Mission Valley Unified School District 330
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week as Catholic Schools’ Success Is Built on Commitment