The GRACE program’s rebranding is more than a symbolic change—it’s a statement about the type of leaders the Office for Catholic Schools (OCS) is seeking to grow and support in archdiocesan schools.
Formally known as Guiding Regionally, Advancing Catholic Education, this Fulcrum-funded leadership program for Catholic school teachers has been re-baptized as the Growing Reflective Authentic Catholic Educators (GRACE) program. GRACE is part of the OCS Building Leadership Capacity initiative, which has been a focus for the archdiocese since 2016.
The rebranding comes on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the archdiocese realized that teachers were looking for collaborative opportunities and resources to meet the immediate needs of students in their classrooms, with a focus on social-emotional development.
Shauna Richards, a veteran teacher and new principal at St. Joseph Parish School in Issaquah, joined the GRACE program before the pandemic, hoping to expand her leadership skills. “When I started the program, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I was excited to collaborate with teachers who weren’t just in my own building. Initially, the focus of GRACE was teaching educators how to use data to inform curriculum decisions.”
After the pandemic moved learning to virtual and hybrid environments, OCS shifted the GRACE program’s focus to address the emerging needs of their educators. GRACE became a touchpoint for Catholic school teachers across Western Washington, giving them opportunities to learn from each other over Zoom and to receive resources and training for designing curriculum to meet a range of needs and abilities from students.
“As the focus of teachers shifted during the pandemic, the GRACE program did a great job reflecting that. This year, we worked on universal design for learning, which was really empowering. It helped us make all our subjects and content accessible for all learners,” Shauna said.
GRACE also helped teachers step up as leaders in their schools through training, mentorship, and mutual support from other teacher-leaders. “I learned a lot about myself as a leader and an educator through GRACE that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Shauna. “The program is a great opportunity to get out there and represent your school as well as your own talents and treasures. There was so much learning that happened through the GRACE sessions and through the interactions between other teachers and administrators. It was an investment of time, but so well worth it.”
The GRACE program expanded to include high school teachers in 2021. In the past school year, the program had 130 participants from schools across the archdiocese.
“I learned about the GRACE program in the fall of 2021 when it first expanded to the high schools. I wanted to join because I have always valued my relationship with my colleagues at other Catholic high schools,” said Kristin Kuzmanich, vice principal of academics at Kennedy Catholic High School. “I think the GRACE program is important because it has the potential to be a powerful agent for collaboration and change, all in service of sustaining and strengthening our work in Catholic schools.”
“Oftentimes, the high schools can feel so separate from one another,” Kristin continued. “I think as we work to serve the students of Western Washington there are many things we can learn from intentional collaboration.”
The GRACE program has made it a priority to become an accessible resource for all schools, allowing trained teacher-leaders to bring back important resources, strategies, and advice to all members of their school community.
“I look forward to the growth of the GRACE program as it works to more intentionally serve the needs of our educators,” said Kristin, “and I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with other passionate educators from around the Archdiocese of Seattle.”