Superintendent of Chicago’s Catholic Schools Resigns

By Catherine Gewertz — September 06, 2000 2 min read

Elaine M. Schuster, the superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, will leave that post in December to become the chief executive officer of the Chicago-based Golden Apple Foundation.

Elaine M. Schuster

Ms. Schuster was the first layperson to lead the archdiocese’s schools, which with 130,000 students make up the largest parochial school system—and one of the largest school districts of any kind—in the nation.

In submitting her resignation last month, she said she was honored to hold the post but had come to believe it was time to leave after nearly 10 years in the job.

“I have absolutely loved this position,” Ms. Schuster, 55, said in an interview. “I feel I’ve made a significant contribution to moving the Catholic schools in this archdiocese, and in the country, forward. But it’s a job that demands tremendous time and energy, and after 10 years I felt it was time for me to step aside.

“My decision was based on my concern that the job continue to have creative, forward-looking, high-energy leadership.”

Ms. Schuster has also played an influential role in shaping Catholic school policy on the national level, serving on two key committees of the U.S. Catholic Conference: one that focuses on public-policy issues and another that advises the U.S. bishops on education-related matters.

“She has done an amazingly good job,” said Sister Lourdes Sheehan, the U.S. Catholic Conference’s secretary for education. “She will be missed both in the archdiocese and nationally. Elaine is a very competent, professional educator who puts 100 percent, if not more, into all of her efforts.”

In-Depth Study

Ms. Schuster’s legacy in Chicago, where she has served as the archdiocesan schools chief since January 1991, includes playing a significant role in persuading the Illinois legislature to make the state one of the few to offer parents a tax credit for educational expenses such as private school tuition. She also was a guiding force in a three-year study that examined trends that challenge the future viability of the archdiocese’s schools, including lagging teacher salaries, declining inner-city enrollment, and the pressure to raise tuition. (“News: Chicago Catholics To Reform Their Schools’ Funding,” Jan. 13, 1999).

That 1998 report, which Ms. Sheehan said “sets the direction for Catholic schools for the next decade,” formed the basis of proposals now being implemented or examined, ranging from better marketing and stepped-up bids for corporate funding to pushing for state financial support for the parents of private school children.

In becoming the CEO of the Golden Apple Foundation, on whose board of directors she has served since 1991, Ms. Schuster will head a 15-year-old organization that helps recruit promising high school students into the teaching field, offers teachers training and certification, and recognizes outstanding local teachers with its Golden Apple awards.

Ms. Schuster attended Catholic schools through college and went on to build a career in Catholic education spanning more than 30 years. It includes posts as an English teacher at two girls’ high schools in Illinois, assistant principal and curriculum director of a New Jersey day school, and dean of admissions and vice president of marketing for her alma mater, Mundelein College in Chicago.

Before joining the archdiocese, she served as a high school principal in a suburb of Chicago.

A search committee has been convened to find a replacement for Ms. Schuster, whose resignation takes effect Dec. 1.