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Celebrating More Than Two Schools

Tuesday, we celebrated.

Specifically, we celebrated Cleveland, and the two schools there that joined our network in June.

Partnership teachers rally around their schools and the city.

There are a few numbers that might help explain why we felt like celebrating:

  • 450. That’s the combined enrollment of Archbishop Lyke and St. Thomas Aquinas Schools as of the beginning of this week.
  • 36%. That’s the increase of the two schools’ enrollment so far over last year’s 331.
  • $3 Million. That’s how much Cleveland and national donors raised this spring—even during the initial dark days of the pandemic—to help make Partnership Schools-Cleveland a reality.
  • 121. That’s how many years these two schools have been impacting students and their communities–since 1899. It’s a relief and a thrill to be working on years 122 and beyond.

But what we are really relishing isn’t numbers; it is how those metrics are coming about.

There’s a great video that illustrates what this effort feels like:

Just as moving a barn gets a lot easier with 250 helpers, each supporting different parts of the effort but moving in the same direction, the first four months of Partnership-Cleveland are a testament to collective effort.

If any single one of the individuals or groups represented in this week’s celebration were absent from the effort, Partnership-Cleveland’s schools wouldn’t be off to a strong start. Some of those change-makers include:

  • The diocese, whose “holy boldness,” as Executive Director Jill Kafka describes it, cleared the way for the agreement that involved our network assuming responsibility for two of its schools;
  • Principals Nancy Lynch and Rachel Dengler, whose gutsy embrace of change makes them true leaders;
  • Cleveland’s many and committed supporters, including Dominic and Gaile Ozanne, Ray and Katie Murphy, and Nick and Lorie Howley, who have committed their own resources as well as recruiting the support of others;
  • Rich Clark, Cleveland’s own evangelist for Catholic education in the service of Gospel justice, whose vision and drive have made all the difference to the start of this school year;
  • Other Partnership team members—including Jill Kafka; Christian Dallavis, Assistant Superintendent, and Kathleen Porter-Magee, Superintendent—whose strategic leadership are proving that a combination of network-driven vision and school-site ownership of that vision are helping these schools become the best version of themselves;
  • Portia Gadson, enrollment manager for both schools, who has combined deep relationships and commitment to the communities of these schools with an effective strategy for spreading their impact to new students.

Every teacher, our facilities team, our students’ families, and so many more aren’t just building together the future of these schools; they are impacting the lives of students right now.

Brothers at St. Thomas Aquinas take a mask break.

Monday, as we were getting ready to celebrate, the Atlantic published an essay by columnist David Brooks about a “moral convulsion” in American life brought about in part by declining social trust. He concludes a lengthy, sobering account of the way in which American civic life has declined by pointing to what can renew it:

Trust can be rebuilt through the accumulation of small heroic acts—by the outrageous gesture of extending vulnerability in a world that is mean, by proffering faith in other people when that faith may not be returned. Sometimes trust blooms when somebody holds you against all logic, when you expected to be dropped. It ripples across society as multiplying moments of beauty in a storm.


In January, St. Thomas Aquinas School thought it was dropped when its closure was announced. Collectively, individuals across Cleveland—and a few in other parts of the country—have reached out to hold it, as Brooks says, and to hold Archbishop Lyke as well.

So what we celebrated on Tuesday—and what we continue to work each day to advance—isn’t just the sustainability of two impactful elementary schools. We are rejoicing at the partnership we are witnessing. It is a collective effort on behalf of children that has the potential to build trust and strengthen community life around them—and one that is already a true source of beauty amid the storms of our time.

To enjoy the whole celebration, watch below: