Faith Forward Strategic Plan for Diocesan Schools Moving Ahead
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
December 21, 2017
DIOCESE—After the Faith Forward Strategic Plan for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Rockford was completed and shared with the public, there was  still much work to do.
 
Task Force groups were formed in some areas of the diocese where schools were experiencing significant struggles with finance, enrollment and population shifts in the neighborhoods they serve. 
Michael Kagan, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, said the task forces and committees have been working diligently for the past year to examine how parishes and schools in McHenry County, Rockford, Aurora and Elgin can work together to provide academically strong and financially sound Catholic schools now, into the next decade and beyond. 
 
But solving the challenges faced by vulnerable communities and schools wasn’t the only need addressed in the goals and strategies of the Faith Forward plan.
 
Data gathered at the start of the process helped reveal realities, both positive and negative, throughout all diocesan schools. One of those realities was that the diocese and its schools needed to communicate its worth. 
 
Telling the story well
 
Communication needs were identified in the goals and strategies of two areas — Catholic Identity and Operational Vitality. The Faith Forward plan outlined the need to assist schools with marketing and branding initiatives to help build public awareness about the benefits of a Catholic education, and promote and engage the schools in their communities.
 
To accomplish this at the school and diocesan levels, Chartwell Agency in Rockford was contracted to build a comprehensive school communication guide for all schools to develop enhanced communications. 
 
On Dec. 19, Chartwell Agency and officials from the diocesan education and communication departments reviewed the plan.
 
The guide provides information and a framework schools can customize for their communities with sections including:
 
– Effective messaging and audience targeting
– Multi-channel distribution of information
– Social media best practices and recommendations 
– Crisis communications
– Working with local media
– Brand standards and templates
 
“Our goal in creating this guide was to provide a framework from which each school could develop an effective and comprehensive communications plan tailored to its unique school and community,” said Rebecca Epperson, president of Chartwell Agency. “We’ve outlined best practices and recommendations from across multiple industries to help diocesan schools attract and retain students while promoting the importance and value of Catholic education.”
 
“We are excited about getting this component of the strategic plan complete and ready to pass on to our diocesan schools,” said Mike Kagan. “This will be a great tool to help all schools, regardless of resources, help promote themselves. It will provide best practices for schools with little or no marketing efforts and strengthen the efforts of  those elementary and high schools already doing active promotion of Catholic education,” he said.
 
The communication guide will be shared with all schools through educational leaders’ meetings and made available to them in a downloadable, online format.