An exciting new chapter is about to begin for students at St. Brendan School in North Olmsted.
Parents were invited to attend meetings on Jan. 21 and 22 outlining the school’s implementation of a classical Catholic education curriculum over the next three years. Groundwork is underway for the new education model that will integrate religion into all subjects taught at the school, said Mike Wisnor, interim head of school. Wisnor, who also is president of Incarnate Word Academy in Parma Heights, has been consulting at St. Brendan’s for the past two years as the school examined and discerned the new curriculum. The parish is marking its 60th anniversary this year.
The plan will make St. Brendan the first elementary school in the Diocese of Cleveland to adopt a classical Catholic education. Wisnor noted that two other Catholic schools – Padre Pio Academy in Lakewood and The Lyceum in South Euclid – also offer a classical Catholic education curriculum. However, they are private, independent schools and do not fall under the diocesan school system’s governance. Both were founded in 2003. Padre Pio Academy serves students in grades K-12, while The Lyceum educates students in grades 7-12.
St. Brendan is adopting the tagline “Different by Design” as it shifts to the new curriculum. School and parish officials said they would continue to follow the current slogan, “Anchored in faith, belief and tradition.” However, school and parish officials said they need to look to the future and at different ways to educate students rather than relying on the same model. The school will continue to be aligned with the state of Ohio learning standards, including requiring students to take state standardized tests.
Wisnor said the classical Catholic education curriculum would be based on the Trivium, which he said “provides a strong foundation of intellect, virtue and faith and weaves the teaching of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel throughout all areas of study.”
In the lower grades, which Wisnor described as the “logic stage,” the curriculum will focus on developing a love of learning and mastery of the basics of reading, writing and math through methods including chants and rhymes, memorization and the study of phonics and phonemic awareness aligned with the science of reading.
Students in the upper grades will focus on higher-order critical thinking and will learn to construct and defend arguments through research, Socratic discussions, speech and debate. Wisner said these students would not only be prepared for high school, but also “to navigate the challenges of our culture with wisdom, grace and courage.”
All levels of students will be introduced to the great books, great thinkers, the great saints, the great artists and the great musicians, Wisnor said. Younger students already have started studying etymology (the origin of words and how their meanings have changed throughout history). Older students in the logic stage will study Latin.
“Our unique classical Catholic education model teaches students to read well, write well, speak well, think well and live well, in accordance with the lessons taught by the greatest teacher, Jesus Christ,” Wisnor added.
Father Tom Woost, St. Brendan Parish pastor for the past 16 years and administrator of St. Richard Parish, also in North Olmsted, for two years, told parents the journey to the new curriculum began with a friendship at St. Brendan’s a few years ago and has grown to this new development. He noted school officials are working with diocesan education officials and members of the Keeping the Faith initiative, which seeks to strengthen Catholic schools throughout the diocese.
“On our new journey, we look to be ‘Different by Design,’” Father Woost said. “St. Brendan School, through a three-year consultative process, with educators from grade school through college, parishioners, parents, faculty and staff, as well as the diocesan Office of Catholic Education, and in conjunction with the diocesan Keeping the Faith strategic planning initiative, is charting the course for a new direction by integrating a classical Catholic education approach into our curriculum,” he said.
Wisnor and Father Woost said a head of school has been hired. Vincent De Luca will begin his new role on July 1. He is trained in classic Catholic education and has experience in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as a teacher and implementing the curriculum model into all levels of education. DeLuca recently conducted a professional development day for St. Brendan teachers. Wisnor said although he lives in Los Angeles, De Luca has some relatives in Cleveland.
He was unable to attend the parents meetings, but spoke via a pre-recorded video. He told those gathered that the new curriculum model would bring happiness because of “the joy in the respect of the love of Jesus Christ.” De Luca said he is excited to begin his new position at St. Brendan.
Julie Onacila, St. Brendan principal, will remain in her position when De Luca begins his new job. She has 33 years of experience in Catholic education with 21 of those at St. Brendan.
Wisnor said adding a head of school who will focus on the big picture, including strategic planning, will free up Onacila to focus on the day-to-day operations at the school.
“We will continue to provide the care and concern we always have to our students, but we are to be different, to be ‘Different by Design,’” Onacila told parents. “And we are not alone in this. Frank O’Linn (diocesan superintendent of schools), Bishop Edward Malesic, members of the Keeping the Faith team, my colleagues at ACE (the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame) and others are all behind us.”
Father Woost noted that all three North Olmsted parishes – St. Brendan, St. Richard and St. Clarence – support the plan, as well as other nearby parishes and schools including those in Westlake, Rocky River, Avon and Avon Lake. Father Neil Kookoothe, St. Clarence pastor, attended the Jan. 21 meeting.
O’Linn, who also attended both parent sessions, emphasized that St. Brendan’s has the full support and backing of the diocesan Office of Catholic Education. “I am excited about this innovative, Catholic and authentic model of education. I watched your reaction,” he told the parents, “and it will succeed because the community wants it. Congratulations to all.”
Wisnor said it would take about three years to fully integrate the new curriculum. Once De Luca begins his new position, Wisnor will step into an advisory role and will continue in his position at IWA.
Read more about the transition at St. Brendan School here and in the upcoming March/April issue of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine.