Guest Blog: Dr. RaeNell Houston

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Guest Blog: Dr. RaeNell Houston

The first-year superintendent of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Dr. Raenell Houston, contributed this blog on her reaction to the news that the Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis were closing.

Upon hearing the news of the closing of the Jubilee Catholic Schools in Memphis, I was saddened but not shocked. The reality that Catholic school leaders face today is a complicated and complex one, most especially those serving high-poverty communities. Often times, these leaders are isolated from others in the diocese because they face different challenges. I am a firm believer that we are only as strong as the weakest among us. It is only in working together that we can overcome the challenges we face.

For almost 300 years, Catholic education has been an important part of the fabric of New Orleans society and culture. No matter who you were or where you came from, doors of Catholic schools were open to help create new opportunities and brighter futures for generations. As I read about the events leading up to the announcement of the Jubilee Catholic Schools closure, I couldn’t help but think about the things we have in common.

In the Archdiocese of New Orleans we have a cohort of schools that serve high-poverty communities. While Louisiana is blessed to have a state-funded voucher program and a tax credit scholarship program, we still face financial challenges. Each year we have to fight for funding to maintain the voucher program because it is funded as a line item in our state’s annual budget. In addition, we are anxiously waiting to measure the results of the impact of a newly created tax credit scholarship program. Currently, we serve over 3,600 students utilizing needs-based, state-funded tuition programs. If that funding ceases to exist, we would find ourselves in a situation much like our colleagues in Memphis.

Have you ever heard the saying: Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten? When I was reprimanded for being disobedient as a five year old, my teacher would ask me to think about what I did and how I would respond to the same situation if it were to happen again. She encouraged me to use that opportunity to learn. Today, I still look for lessons, or takeaways, in every situation. In light of the Jubilee Catholic Schools closing, and as I move forward into my second year as Superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I embrace the following lessons:

  • We must support school leaders in strengthening Catholic identity. It is the ONE thing that sets us apart;
  • As transformational Catholic school leaders, we must work collaboratively at a national level. By sharing our experiences and resources, we can develop innovative solutions;
  • We must recruit, retain and grow strong school leaders; and
  • We must be accountable to stakeholders, and hold school leaders accountable in the areas of Catholic identity, academic quality and finances.

After prayerful reflection on the closing of the Jubilee Catholic Schools, I am even more committed to identifying ways to preserve and sustain Catholic education for all who desire it.