Witnessing the culture

Schools superintendent gets acquainted with students, faculty at all 10 campuses

By Gabrielle Nolan

Mary Ann Deschaine, the new superintendent of Catholic schools, made the journey to all 10 Diocese of Knoxville schools at the beginning of the school year to get better acquainted with diocesan students and their teachers.

She visited the schools August 21-29.

“I wanted to see the people, the kids, engage with the staff and see what great Catholic school opportunities that are out there for our students,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “Each region is different, each location is different, and I want to get to know those uniquenesses of each of the schools.”

A student at St. Jude School in Chattanooga tells diocesan schools superintendent Mary Ann Deschaine what she is reading during class.

The diocese’s 10 schools include two high schools and eight elementary schools located in Chattanooga, Oak Ridge, Kingsport, Johnson City, Farragut, and Knoxville.

“It was delightful to see the students engaged in lessons, playing on playgrounds,” Mrs. Deschaine said. “They were so polite, they stood up in class when we entered, and they had manners. It was just great seeing the kids and seeing them in an educational setting that was so faith-filled and engaging.”

During her first year as superintendent, Mrs. Deschaine has a goal to get to know each individual school community and its culture.

“We’re not cookie-cutter schools; we each have our own Catholic identity in a sense, and how each school reflects that is very exciting to see,” she said. “Walking into a building, you can feel the Holy Spirit there, and it’s wonderful to participate in the Masses and see how each school celebrates who we are—a Catholic community. … To see that presence of faith in our students is a true bucket-filler.”

“Supporting our students, staff, and families on their faith journey is something I hope to be a part of,” she added.

Mrs. Deschaine shared that her entry into East Tennessee has been warmly welcomed.

“A couple of things that I’ve learned is that each of our schools are wonderful and faith-filled communities. I’ve enjoyed meeting the kids. Everyone’s been so welcoming and inviting. It’s been delightful to see that and experience all of that,” she said.

“The Diocese of Knoxville has a lot going on. I’m impressed with the way the school leaders work together to function as a system of schools, not a school system, in which we respect each other’s unique personality, each unique culture that they have, but they all understand that the bigger mission is for Catholic school education. I think that that’s what’s important,” she added.

Following her school visits, Mrs. Deschaine touched upon the topics of curriculum, school safety, building upgrades, and priestly support of schools.

From school to school, Mrs. Deschaine said there is a difference between the textbooks and materials being used to teach certain curriculum.

Students at St. Mary School in Oak Ridge receive a blessing from St. Mary Church pastor Father Ray Powell, who is sprinkling holy water on the class.

“We are working on unifying and aligning a lot of the textbooks that we are using. All of the elementary schools this year chose to utilize some of their GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund) funds or local funding sources, and they’re using AMPLIFY for science, and that’s in all of the elementary schools,” she noted.

Mrs. Deschaine said she was excited and pleased to see the schools’ safety plans in place.

“If it’s severe weather drills, fire drills, intruder drills, those things— all of our schools are prepared for. We’ve had a lot more resource officers available in our buildings, which is a welcomed addition to our school communities,” she shared.

In addition to schools ensuring safer buildings, many of the buildings have seen upgrades, as well.

“Our facilities are wonderful. Since we’re what would be considered a baby diocese in the United States, our schools are much younger than some of the other places,” the new superintendent pointed out. “The campuses, the connection they have with their parish, they were wonderful. I was walking on campuses that were huge, and the outdoor spaces for the learning that could take place or the playground facilities were absolutely wonderful.”

She noted that several of the buildings utilized the GEER funds or other resources to update interiors, such as painting and flooring, removing old carpeting, and more.

“It’s as though they were almost new schools that we were walking into. It was exciting to see all of that, and the differences between the communities were very obvious, based on what their school and parish decided was important. Some places added lockers or painted their hallways, so that was really exciting to see all of that,” she said.

Mrs. Deschaine said, “It’s refreshing to see all the priests supporting Catholic school education, even the ones that don’t have a parish school. They’re there encouraging and supporting in any way that they can.”

“I was able to meet with some priests at a deanery meeting in Chattanooga, and just hearing the wonderful experiences that they have with Catholic education was encouraging because they accept it, they promote it, and they want to continue to support it going forward,” she continued.

Mrs. Deschaine noted that she loved her conversations with school pastors and principals during her visits.

“My goals are to teach Jesus and help to prepare souls for the kingdom,” she said. “That’s what I’m doing this first year, is getting to know everyone and seeing what they need and how we can help them.”

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