The following story appeared in the August 26 Idaho Catholic Register.
By Gene Fadness
One wouldn’t think much about education would surprise a 32-year veteran like Tammy Emerich, whose has run the educator gamut from coaching volleyball, to teaching high school English, to becoming the assistant principal or principal of four Catholic schools, covering grades K-12.
Nevertheless, there was something she did not anticipate during her first week – indeed, it was palpable on her first day – as superintendent of Idaho Catholic Schools.
“It’s so quiet here!” she said about the diocesan office on Boise’s east bench.
Don’t interpret the silence to indicate a lack of workload. Emerich may not be surrounded by students and teachers every day, but she’s facing challenges all around: preserving Catholic identity in 16 schools stretching from Coeur d’Alene to Pocatello, Boise, all operating in an increasingly secular culture; converting to a new School Information Service; and helping schools to achieve accreditation from a lofty new set of national standards.
The single accreditation process – as opposed to different accrediting processes from different agencies in years past – is National Standards for Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Schools. It’s a mouthful, but it basically means that there’s a recognized national standard by which all Catholic schools will be evaluated to ensure success and effectiveness in four key areas: mission and Catholic identity; academic excellence; effective governance and leadership; and operational vitality.
The accreditation is a two-year process, now ongoing for five of Idaho’s Catholic schools. Six other schools are in a self-study, the preliminary step to the two-year accreditation. The accreditation is renewed every six years.
Another project for this year: updating social studies and religion curriculum. Idaho’s schools recently updated English Language Arts, math and health subject material.
Both the accreditation process and the updating of religion curriculum will help Emerich and all Idaho school administrators with the critical task of ensuring that schools adhere to Catholic teaching in a secular age when even many Catholics do not agree with Church teaching.
Part of that challenge is met when schools “hire for mission,” Emerich said.
“We try to make sure in teacher contracts that teachers understand they are ‘teacher-ministers,’ and that they clearly state that they support the Church’s teaching. I am a superintendent-minister and must truly adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and follow the catechism.” Equally challenging is ensuring that Catholic parents are on board with the mission of the Church and the Catholic school.
One of the new national standards states, “An excellent Catholic school is guided and driven by a clearly communicated mission that embraces a Catholic Identity rooted in Gospel values, centered on the Eucharist, and committed to faith formation, academic excellence and service.”
A second standard states, “An excellent Catholic school adhering to mission provides a rigorous academic program for religious studies in the Catholic faith, set within a total academic curriculum that integrates faith, culture and life.”
Another daunting task for Emerich: finding counselors in schools. Several schools are currently without a counselor and in need of one. “COVID brought out a lot of social and emotional needs,” Emerich said.
Challenges notwithstanding, Emerich is excited about the new year. “A real blessing of a new school year is that you get to start again with a new canvas – new goals, some new families and re-energized employees. It is always so exciting to begin a new school year.”
She switched her major to English, got her degree and teaching certificate and was in the classroom by age 22. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree in English and an Education Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership.
She’s been in Catholic school education for 12 years, starting out as a principal at a Catholic high school in Colorado Springs before becoming assistant principal at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise. From there, she became principal at St. Mary’s in Boise for four years followed by three years in the same post at St. Joseph’s School in Boise.
Thirty-two years later, she has no regrets about that switch from business to education. “This is such rewarding work. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
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