Romero Academy: A New Seton Initiative in Ohio

Seton Education Partners is taking a new step in its work to revitalize urban Catholic education in America with the launch of Romero Academy at Resurrection, an independent Catholic academy model in the Price Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Seton will operate Romero Academy at Resurrection in partnership with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Catholic Inner-City School Education Fund (CISE). Starting in August 2020, the school will transition from the existing Resurrection of Our Lord to a new academic and governance model.

Romero Academy will incorporate elements of the Brilla schools, Seton’s successful public charter school network in the Bronx, with an explicit focus on character formation, as well as curriculum from El Camino, Seton’s extended-day Catholic faith formation program. Four Seton Teaching Fellows will be placed at Romero, and Seton will also borrow from the successes of its Catholic Blended Learning Network by incorporating robust blended learning that pairs teacher led, small-group, data-driven instruction with personalized learning on a computer.

“We share with Brilla a focus on the four cardinal virtues, but the unique and special opportunity that we have [with Romero Academy] is that we can also focus on faith throughout the school day,” says Tom Loughead, founding school leader of Romero Academy. “That is the big distinction: We are sharing the beauty of the Catholic faith during the school day, using a lot of the lessons learned and the curriculum that has been developed by El Camino.”

Loughead, a Cincinnati native, most recently served as the regional manager for Seton's Blended Learning Network. He began his career in education as a Teach for America corps member at Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and later taught in Cincinnati Public Schools, during which time he served as a content team leader for early career teachers in Teach for America’s Southwest Ohio region.

Romero Academy will operate within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati with the blessing of the Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, under a new independent governance model through which a board of experts will oversee decisions related to the school’s finances, operations, academics, and instruction.

“Catholic education needs new management structures if the sector is going to catch up to its high-performing public school peers in offering an academically excellent option for the poor,” says Jeff Kerscher, the Founding Executive Director of Romero Academy who negotiated the partnership with the Archdiocese. “The key question, however, is how to transition from a parish-based model to an agile, independently managed model that achieves the benefits of scale in a sustainable way while also honoring the teaching authority of the Church. The Romero Academy model offers a solution by combining the lessons of our four major initiatives (Brilla Public Charter Schools, El Camino Faith Formation, Seton Teaching Fellows, and Seton Blended Learning).”

Romero Academy at Resurrection aims for students to exceed the district average on the state English language arts and math proficiency tests, with significantly more students surpassing like-performing peers in terms of growth rate, says Loughead.

The transition includes renovations to the current school building, and Seton has raised $1.1 million to support that physical transformation. A major goal, says Loughead, is to make the transition as smooth as possible for current school families.

“It is our intent and true desire to serve all of the families that are currently enrolled at Resurrection,” he says.

Educating the Whole Child

Loughead has already started to build a strong team, including Katie Robben as operations manager and John Lane, who currently works with the Seton Teaching Fellows and El Camino, as assistant principal.

“I am just so excited and thrilled to have [Robben and Lane] on board already, and I’m really looking forward to finding mission-aligned, talented teachers to do this work alongside us,” Loughead says.

Most of all, he’s looking forward to the impact Romero Academy can have on the children and families of the Price Hill neighborhood.

“I think the great promise of a Catholic school is that we are uniquely positioned to make the buzzwords of ‘whole-child education’ actually come to life,” says Loughead. “We can have really candid and meaningful conversations about character and right and wrong, and most importantly, about God. We can help support each child’s personal relationship with Christ, and we can talk about God’s love for all of us. I think those are the conversations that matter more than anything. Of course, I'm deeply concerned with what students know and what they're able to do in the academic context, but I am more concerned with the type of person they are becoming. I don't think you can address the question of ‘what sort of person are you?’ earnestly outside of the context of faith."

The inspiration and namesake of the new model, St. Oscar Romero, reflects that focus.

“[Romero was] a modern-day martyr, someone who really exemplified and stood up for the virtues that we want to impart to the children that we are serving: a true dedication to justice, a true dedication to service, and undying hope. He tells us not to aspire to have more, but to ‘be more.’ That message - Be More - is one we will pass along to our students as we prepare them for success at the city's most selective high schools and beyond.”