In the hope of encouraging others to support a vital new interdisciplinary initiative, Frank Hanna has provided a seven-figure lead gift to Catholic University’s Institute for the Transformation of Catholic Education (ITCE).
The ITCE was founded in October 2021 to serve PK-12 Catholic schools across the country. The institute seeks to advance the distinctive excellence of Catholic education and serve as a catalyst for its renewal by providing formation and accreditation programs.
Sr. Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P., Ph.D. 2021, is the ITCE’s first director. She is an experienced educator who has worked in Catholic institutions at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. She previously served on the Board of Directors for the National Catholic Educational Association and is currently a consultant to the Committee on Catholic Education of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Developing a national accreditation program was Sr. Mary Agnes’s first priority for the ITCE. Accreditation is an important quality assurance process through which a school works with an external body to help measure that school’s effectiveness in fulfilling its mission. Together, the school and the accrediting organization agree upon a set of standards of excellence and then partner to support the school as it strives to achieve the highest attainment of those standards.
“From an early age I have been interested in how society might be improved, whether through corporal works for one another, civic engagement, or education. Like many others, I ended up being particularly drawn to education, as it has such a long-term benefit for both the individual and for everyone that individual meets throughout life."
— Frank Hanna
Currently, there is no national accreditation structure created specifically for Catholic schools. While a few states offer accreditation through their Catholic Conference, most schools work with one of the four major secular accreditation agencies. That can cause a disconnect, as the model of excellence articulated by a secular model doesn't always fit easily with the model for Catholic school excellence.
“We wanted this accreditation initiative to be our lead project because it encompasses everything in the life of the school,” said Sr. Mary Agnes. “So when you look at the single most transformative thing you can do for a school, that touches on all aspects of its operations, of the way it lives its mission, of the qualification of its teachers, or the quality of its leadership, it's all under the accreditation umbrella.”
Enter Frank Hanna, University trustee and strong advocate of the importance of Catholic education. He has helped to co-found 13 new Catholic schools and educational institutions over the past 30 years, including the University’s Busch School of Business - in fact, he was the first member of the Busch School’s advisory board.
“From an early age I have been interested in how society might be improved, whether through corporal works for one another, civic engagement, or education. Like many others, I ended up being particularly drawn to education, as it has such a long-term benefit for both the individual and for everyone that individual meets throughout life,” Frank said.
When the University approached him about getting involved with the ITCE, Frank was intrigued. He knew that Catholic University would engage in strong research and development, and that the University also had the credibility and capability to offer it nationwide. When he met Sr. Mary Agnes, he knew the ITCE had found the right leader, which was the final impetus for him to support the initiative.
“I think that Sister has an extraordinarily powerful combination of a desire for holiness overlaying a foundation of intellect, energy, knowledge, and diplomacy. She also has an open-minded entrepreneurial outlook to solving problems,” Frank said.
Thanks to Frank’s commitment, the ITCE has made great progress in less than a year. Sr. Mary Agnes conducted a nationwide search for educational leaders to help build the program, and this summer the University welcomed Dr. Daryl Hagan, director of Catholic school accreditation, and Dr. Andrew Kremer, associate director of strategy and membership.
“Without Frank's gift, we wouldn't have been able to get this off the ground. It has enabled us to hire the team that's going to start the project,” said Sr. Mary Agnes. “Over the course of the next year, they're going to be meeting with people around the country, including dioceses and schools that want to come into our program, as well as state educational leaders, since K-12 accreditation is regulated at the state level."
With the team assembled, the ITCE formally kicked off the process of developing a program of PK-12 Catholic school accreditation in July. Once complete, the accreditation program will propose a model of excellence for Catholic schools, and then provide the tools and resources each school needs to attain that ideal.
“This has a great potential to really help renew our Catholic schools. We're at a particularly critical time in our Church and our nation, where we know that we need to reexamine what is excellence for a Catholic educational institution, and what's the distinctive contribution that they make to the culture, to the Church, and to the wider society,” said Sr. Mary Agnes. “The goal is a very aspirational accompanying program that can set the ideal for excellence, but then also give the tools to get there, and that's something that often falls short in the typical accreditation model.”
Frank agrees that the timing of the new programs is critical, and he hopes they will address some of the larger issues that are now facing Catholic schools and educators.
“So when you look at the single most transformative thing you can do for a school, that touches on all aspects of its operations, of the way it lives its mission, of the qualification of its teachers, or the quality of its leadership, it's all under the accreditation umbrella."
— Sr. Mary Agnes Greiffendorf, O.P.
“I think we need a radical - meaning one that goes to the root - commitment to the reality of the situation. For the longest time, our Catholic schools were thriving. Then we entered a period in which, as a whole, they weren't really thriving, but we continued to insist that they were,” Frank said. “Now I’d say we’ve moved to a consensus that, for a variety of reasons, we’re not thriving. The percentage of baptized Catholics who attend Catholic schools continues to decline. And so the idea developed by Catholic University that there needs to be a transformation is appropriate for this moment of time.”
Developing the new accreditation program also continues a long thread in the history of Catholic University. From 1912-1968, the University ran a Program of Affiliation that extended to seminaries, colleges, universities, and secondary schools across the country, providing an early form of accreditation. Now, Sr. Mary Agnes and the ITCE hope to again help Catholic institutions across the nation experience a renewal in their overall culture and in the quality of the educational experience for Catholic students.
“We can give the support and encouragement that our schools need to be able to be all they can be,” said Sr. Mary Agnes. “As St. Catherine of Siena said, ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.’ I think that's the challenge we offer through this program for Catholic school communities: Be all you can be, and we’re here to serve you.”
Published on: Thursday, October 13, 2022
Tags: Frank Hanna, ITCE, Accreditation