A profile of Father Timothy Scully of the University of Notre Dame, and the organization he founded: the Alliance for Catholic Education, which trains and recruits teachers for schools in some of America’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. He is the winner of this year’s Simon Prize for lifetime achievement in social entrepreneurship.
It’s not always appreciated as such, but the Catholic schools of the United States, with 2.5 million students, constitute the nation’s largest private school system. It serves many who are not Catholic, including those of the inner city and the minority and immigrant poor, often doing so more effectively than urban public schools. Indeed, the Teachers College Press book Growing Up African American in Catholic Schools (edited by Jacqueline Jordan Irvine and Michèle Foster) argues that black students "who possess such qualities as resiliency, accommodation to the dominant culture without assimilation, and retention of their positive cultural identities" are often those who "attended Catholic schools and later succeeded as scholars" (as summarized by the Harvard Education Review).
It’s a system, however, that has been under siege—finding it harder, in an era of fewer nuns, to staff its classrooms; and harder, in a time of declining church attendance, to find the funds to keep the schools going. Indeed, 1,900 Catholic schools have been forced to close their doors since 2000.
In this bleak context, Father Timothy Scully has led what might be considered a counteroffensive, aimed at giving Catholic schools in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and regions the teachers they need—and developing new institutions to revivify the system broadly. Inspiration for the ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) program came through happenstance—and midlife crisis. Father Scully was a new priest in 1979 and happily serving in Chile, where he not only built a church and taught religion but also got into trouble with the government for speaking out for human rights. After five years, he left Chile to pursue a Ph.D. in political science at Berkeley; he wrote a book on Chile and became a comparative politics professor at Notre Dame. He went on to write six more books[J1] , receive tenure, and become the school’s academic vice president.
But the year he was awarded tenure (1993), he sank into a spiritual funk, wondering if a faculty member’s life of teaching and publication was really what he was called to do. His spiritual adviser, Sister Lourdes Sheehan, challenged him to think about doing something else—specifically, something about the crisis of Catholic schools. She was originally from the South and knew firsthand how difficult it was for Catholic schools there to recruit teachers—and how significant the challenge was to improve minority education. Father Scully recalls asking her, "If I find some teachers, where will they teach?" Sister Sheehan replied, "Leave that to me." Some 40 students responded to an ad that Father Scully placed in a Notre Dame student newspaper: "Tired of Doing Homework? Why Not Give Some?" Thanks to the personal ties of Sister Sheehan, the students were placed in eight diocese schools in five Southern states.
Twenty years later, ACE is linked to a network of 110 schools in 26 Catholic dioceses—from Atlanta to Mobile, Pensacola to Brownsville, Phoenix to South Central Los Angeles. In sharp contrast to the staffing shortfalls with which Catholic schools have struggled, the ACE teachers’ program is selective, attracting some 400 applications from new college graduates for just 90 openings, in the process serving the disadvantaged and fulfilling training requirements for a master’s degree in education awarded by Notre Dame, at no cost to the student. ACE teacher corps members qualify for a stipend and tuition support, partly provided by the Corporation for National Service, a recognition of the fact that they are teaching English, math, and science, not religion. Some 1,500 teachers have volunteered for the program since its inception; in the 2012–13 academic year, there were 173 from 37 colleges.
Demand is high, notwithstanding the demands placed on those accepted. The program requires a two-year commitment, a willingness to accept a particular school assignment, and a promise to live "in community" with selected fellow ACErs in accordance with Catholic principles. They don’t begin to teach until they’ve completed a summer of academic preparation tailored to the teacher’s assignment: elementary, middle, or high school, with specific classes in science, math, and language arts. Such oversight and preparation is ongoing: second-year teachers help train the first-year teachers, and each ACE teacher can turn to a senior adviser for help, especially with the challenges of the first year in the classroom. Academic staff from ACE visit each teacher twice a year and plan conference calls and online evaluation forms with each teacher and principal. The process is designed to train and equip teachers for a very difficult job—as Jen Beltrano and Scott Morgan, both Notre Dame and ACE alumni, recall.
Beltrano, a Kingsport, Tennessee, native, found herself sent to the aptly named Mother of Sorrows school in a predominantly poor Hispanic section of South Central Los Angeles. "It was," she recalls more than a decade later, "an incredibly humbling experience. You are used to the idea that, if you work hard, you’ll be successful—but faced with the difficulties the students are facing, that just may not be true. They were 100 percent below the poverty level—and the school itself was located on a gang boundary." Morgan, a San Jose, California, native, experienced a similar epiphany when he was at predominantly black St. Jude High School in Montgomery, Alabama. "I wanted to be the next Jaime Escalanate (the math teacher made famous by the film Stand and Deliver). I thought that my lectures on the Constitution and the separation of powers were perfect. Then I gave a test two weeks later—and virtually everybody failed. It hit me like a ton of bricks."
Beltrano and Morgan credit the "ACE support community"—other volunteers with whom ACE teachers live, as well as work—for helping them get past the initial barriers and become successful teachers. Recalls Morgan: "When you live in the same house with other ACE teachers, you’re able to share challenges and struggles and problem-solve at night, over dinner—and that allowed me to take my craft to a much higher level." Beltrano remembers moments when she felt she’d turned a corner: "When you work with a student one-on-one and see him begin to have success—and then to use the same techniques you modeled when he’s helping another student, that’s very fulfilling."
ACE teachers are volunteers but are paid a small stipend and can go on to complete, without charge, education courses at Notre Dame over two summers and then receive an M.Ed. and an Indiana state teacher certification (transferable for teaching privileges in more than 40 states). Since the program’s inception, a portion of the stipend and graduate program tuition is covered by the Corporation for National Service[J2] , which approved this use of its "Americorps" funds so long as the ACE teachers provided enough service hours per week that any time teaching religious subjects could be exempt from the stipend. (The issue was tested in court.)
It’s a bit facile to call this the Catholic Teach for America—but the comparison certainly comes to mind, especially because a significant number of ACE teacher program graduates have gone on to important education careers. That’s the case for Jen Beltrano and Scott Morgan. Beltrano, after going on to become principal of Mother of Sorrows, today is the assistant superintendent of all Archdiocese of Los Angeles schools—215 elementary and 50 high schools—with 10,000 students. Her mission remains to "break the cycle of poverty." Morgan—after graduating from Stanford Law School—has become in-house counsel for the nation’s largest network of charter schools, the California-based ASPIRE group, where he continues, he says, to be inspired both by the values and methods of ACE. "I learned how much talent is needed not just at the classroom and principal level but at the CFO, COO leadership level."
The challenges of its students notwithstanding, ACE boasts an annual retention rate of 93 percent—an impressive figure, given that the teachers do not select their school and are told only that their assigned school will stretch them out of their comfort zone. None of them has had any teaching experience before joining the program. Since 1993, 75 percent of ACE teachers remain "actively involved in education," with more than half still serving as classroom teachers, 15 percent serving in school administration, and others in research or nonprofit work in support of Catholic schools.
Father Scully observes that, although not all ACE teachers remain in education, "they continue to dare to be different with their lives after ACE. It is one of the greatest inspirations of my life to witness the diversity of ways that ACE graduates are becoming leaders in all fields, and all around the world, truly making a difference in the world."
As a result, the programmatic fruit of Father Scully’s midlife crisis will be a powerful force in the lives of children for decades to come.
Since 2001, I’ve helped direct the award program at the Manhattan Institute that recognizes top social entrepreneurs—those who develop effective and original approaches to dealing with social problems and who rely mainly on private funding and volunteers to see their idea to fruition. They are leaders of our civil society, doing the things that government can’t do—or can’t do as well. We grant up to five $25,000 awards, named for the libertarian thinker Richard Cornuelle (who coined the term "independent sector"), to promising, growing programs. An annual $100,000 lifetime achievement prize, the largest such award for an American nonprofit leader, is named for William E. Simon, the investment finance pioneer and U.S. Treasury secretary, whose book A Time for Truth sounded an alarm about the growing dependence of nonprofit organizations on government funding. Simon Prize winners have included Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone; and Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN.
All award winners direct organizations that they founded themselves—and that rely minimally, if at all, on government funding. They are more than just "points of light," however: many seek to extend their reach, whether by growing larger and branching to other cities, or helping others to start similar organizations elsewhere.
Award winners are nominated by donors who have seen the nominee’s work firsthand, and they are selected by a panel that includes: Les Lenkowsky, professor of philanthropic studies, Indiana University; Adam Meyerson, president, the Philanthropy Roundtable; William Schambra, director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal; Anne-Marie Burgoyne, former program officer, Draper-Richards Foundation; and James Piereson, president, William E. Simon Foundation.
This year’s award presentation will take place in New York on November 5. This is the second profile of this year’s award winners.
Here’s the list of winners from years past:
BUILD, Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, Redwood City, Calif.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, Daniel Reingold, Riverdale, N.Y.
Getting Out and Staying Out, Mark Goldsmith, New York, N.Y.
IDignity, Michael Dippy, Orlando, Fla.
Simon Prize: Brian Lamb, C-SPAN, Washington, D.C.
English @ Work, Maile Broccoli-Hickey, Austin, Tex.
Glamour Gals, Rachel Doyle, Commack, N.Y.
Work Faith Connection, Barbara Elliott and Sandy Schultz, Houston, Tex.
Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, Ann Higdon, Dayton, Ohio
MedWish, Lee Ponsky, Cleveland, Ohio
Simon Prize: Geoffrey Canada, Harlem Children’s Zone, New York, N.Y.
Cristo Rey Network, Rev. John P. Foley, S.J., Chicago, Ill.
REEO, Scott Stimpfel, South Pasadena, Calif.
The Mission Continues, Eric Greitens, St. Louis, Mo.
Civic Builders, David Umansky, New York, N.Y.
SquashBusters, Greg Zaff, Roxbury Crossing, Mass.
Simon Prize: Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, The Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, New York, N.Y.
Rocking the Boat, Adam Green, New York, N.Y.
Cincinnati Works, Dave and Liane Phillips, Cincinnati, Ohio
National Kidney Registry, Garet Hil, Babylon, N.Y.
United Neighborhood Organization, Juan Rangel, Chicago, Ill.
Simon Prize: Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), San Francisco, Calif.
C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program), Richard Grausman, New York, N.Y.
Beacon Hill Village, Susan McWhinney-Morse, Boston, Mass.
Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Robert L. Woodson Sr., Washington D.C.
St. Bernard Project, Zack Rosenburg and Liz McCartney, New Orleans, La.
GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), Rachel Lloyd, New York, N.Y.
Simon Prize: George T. McDonald, The Doe Fund, Inc., Ready, Willing & Able Program, New York, N.Y
A Home Within, Toni Vaughn Heineman, D.M.H., San Francisco, Calif.
More than Wheels (formerly Bonnie CLAC), Robert Chambers, Lebanon, N.H.
Friendship Circle, Rabbi Levi and Bassie Shemtov, West Bloomfield, Mich.
Reclaim A Youth, Addie Mix, Glenwood, Ill.
Prison Entrepreneurship Program, Catherine Rohr, Houston, Tex.
Simon Prize: Daniel A. Biederman, Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership, New York, N.Y.
Inner City Neighborhood Art House, Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, Erie, Pa.
Project K.I.D.—Responding to Kids in Devastation, Paige T. Ellison, Fairhope, Ala.
Project Lead the Way, Richard C. Liebich, Clifton Park, N.Y.
Taproot Foundation, Aaron Hurst, San Francisco, Calif.
Volunteers in Medicine Institute, Amy Hamlin, Burlington, Vt.
Mexican Institute of Greater Houston, Jose-Pablo Fernandez, Houston, Tex.
RISE (Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators), Temp Keller, San Francisco, Calif.
Philadelphia Futures for Youth, Joan C. Mazzotti, Philadelphia, Pa.
Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal, Reverend Mack McCarter, Shreveport, La.
Bridges To Life, John Sage, Houston, Tex.
Center for Teaching Entrepreneurship, ReDonna Rodgers, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Reading Excellence and Discovery Foundation, Al Sikes, New York, N.Y.
Upwardly Global, Jane Leu, San Francisco, Calif.
The First Place Fund for Youth, Amy Lemley and Deanne Pearn, Oakland, Calif.
Living Lands and Waters, Chad Pregracke, East Moline, Ill.
Think Detroit, Michael Tenbusch and Daniel Varner, Detroit, Mich.
Working Today, Sara Horowitz, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Year Up, Gerald Chertavian, Boston, Mass.
Shepherd’s Hope, William S. Barnes, Orlando, Fla.
College Summit, Jacob Schramm, Washington, D.C.
New Jersey Orators, James G. Hunter, Somerset, N.J.
JUMP: Junior Uniformed Mentoring Program, John and Catherine Dixon, Buffalo, N.Y.
Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union/Credit Where Credit Is Due, Mark Levine, New York, N.Y.
The SEED Foundation, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota, Washington, D.C.
Steppingstone Foundation, Michael Danziger, Boston, Mass.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes