Cyril Cruz is principal of Holy Innocents Parish School in Long Beach, California
Is your Catholic school independent, parochial, or diocesan?
We are a parochial school of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (ADLA).
What grades does your school serve?
What is your vision for your school? How do you think of your mission? What do you hope to accomplish?
First, our mission: Holy Innocents Catholic Classical School is a parochial school of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We exist for those who embrace the Church’s vision for Catholic education by supporting parents in their sacred responsibility to educate the minds of their children in truth, to form the character of their children in goodness, and to train the hearts of their children in the love of beauty. Under the patronage of the Holy Innocents and the intercession of Mary and Joseph, our faculty and staff assist parents in this sacred endeavor by studying, teaching and modeling the wealth and highest values of Western civilization, as well as the spiritual treasure and deepest virtues of Catholic culture. Our pedagogy and curriculum are chosen and designed to serve these lofty goals and thereby form the minds and hearts of the young ladies and gentlemen who will soon take their place as pillars of human society and citizens of heaven.
My vision for the school is to continue to form our scholars, their families, and our faculty and staff for heaven. I want to help create an orthodox Catholic culture that penetrates all aspects of life. I want the surrounding community to experience Christ through our scholars.
How do your school’s culture and curriculum differ from government schools in your area? From other Catholic schools in your area?
We are implementing a comprehensive renewal of the Catholic classical liberal arts approach to education which means that our culture, curriculum, and pedagogy differs substantially from both government and Catholic schools in our area. Our curriculum follows the St. Jerome Educational Plan, which includes the content of a Christ-centered, historically based curriculum, the cultivation of aptitudes, habits, and qualities that shape the student’s approach to all subjects, binding them together in “a wonder and love for all that is genuinely true, good, and beautiful.” In order to effectively share such content and cultivate such aptitudes, a distinct pedagogical approach is required. Teachers aim to nurture students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn by focusing on fundamental human faculties like imitation, language and number, memory, imagination, inquiry, and integration.
How often do your students attend Mass?
Daily. Our school day currently begins with Mass.
How else is the Catholic faith integrated into the school program?
Our faith is in every aspect of our school. We begin each day with the holy sacrifice of the Mass. In regards to curriculum, we have implemented the “Core”. Teachers create curriculum that integrates Religion, History, and Literature. For Nature Studies and Mathematics, teachers use questioning to guide students to the Logos. Teachers take the students to the chapel frequently. We have incorporated some elements of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd into our kindergarten curriculum.
Are subjects—such as mathematics, science, literature, and history—integrated in any way?
Religion, history, and literature are integrated as a part of the St. Jerome Educational Plan.
What is your school’s enrollment?
Has enrollment been steady in recent years?
In 2012, we reached an enrollment of 141, causing concern for the future viability of the school. Thanks to the independent fundraising efforts of our pastor, Fr. Peter Irving, an influx of low-income parish families were able to enroll their children in the school with increased Financial Aid subsidies. By the 2019-2020 school year, enrollment reached 203 students from 111 families. As a result of a variety of factors related to the Covid pandemic, enrollment has dropped again to 170, but now that we are back at full capacity, we are seeing an increase in inquiries and we are confident that we will get back to 200+ in the near future. Our ideal enrollment is 225-230.
What is your school’s tuition? Do you offer a sibling discount? If you offer financial aid, how many families receive it and what is the average grant?
Our tuition for one child is $4,792. We offer significant sibling discounts: two children is $6,547, three children is $7,955, and each additional child is $660.
60% of our families receive financial assistance, representing 70% of all students. The average grant amount is $3,689.
How involved are parents in the life of your school?
The involvement of parents is the most critical piece of the formation of children. We have incorporated Classical Parent Nights to help form parents. In the past, we have done socratic seminars with “The Gettysburg Address” and the fairy tale Cinderella. We have had presentations on classical methods and pedagogy. We have had book reads and discussions on the proper use of technology, “Glow Kids”. Parents also help with the day-to-day function of our school: yard duty, service hours to help teachers, coaches, etc.
Are you generally satisfied with your school’s teachers? How so?
I am generally satisfied with our teachers. The majority of our staff has been with us since the beginning of our adoption of the Catholic Classical Liberal Arts Curriculum three years ago. I have witnessed the transformation of our teachers in their faith and as academic professionals. I can measure it in the joy that resonates in our classrooms, hallways, and faculty rooms. It is not uncommon to have a theological discussion over lunch. Our teachers have gone back to being the learners. We are currently going through a course in Euclid with Dr. Andrew Seeley. It is difficult but we are growing and learning together. The teachers have bought into the mission and are on fire to carry out the mission.
Are parents generally satisfied with the education their children receive at your school? How do you know?
Yes, parents are generally satisfied with the education their children receive at Holy Innocents School. We have great attendance at our Classical Parent Nights and good reviews after. During parent conferences, parents listen to teacher recommendations. Parents are still learning about the classical approach alongside us. They are truly grateful for the formation of their children. Our enrollment and tuition revenue has been good even throughout the pandemic. Parents are happy that their children are learning in person.
What are you doing to intentionally build and strengthen your school community? How do you communicate with students, families, and teachers? How do members of your community connect with each other?
School communication with families happens through a weekly bulletin that goes home via hard copy and digitally. There are daily announcements after Mass (via livestream throughout distance learning times). We text parents announcements via the Remind app.
With teachers, we have a weekly faculty meeting along with a weekly bulletin.
We also have room parents who distribute communication to families via text, Remind, and email.
How do you utilize volunteers in the operation of your school? What has worked well in making volunteers effective?
Volunteers help with temperature and health checks, yard and lunch duty. They also help with the garden and Nature Study lessons. Volunteers help with washing TK blankets, cataloging books, washing linens and altar serving garments. Offering service hours helps in getting volunteers to commit for a longer period of time.
What resources do you recommend parents use at home to deepen families’ understanding of and appreciation for the Catholic faith? For example, Word on Fire, Institute of Catholic Culture, Augustine Institute, etc.
I like to use the articles on the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education’s website. I highlight an article monthly in our family bulletin. There are not enough resources in Spanish in regards to Classical Education.
What do parents value most in your school? How do you know that?
The answer to this has changed over the years. Now I believe parents value first and foremost the spiritual well-being of their children as evidenced by the increased amount of parish families in attendance at our school. Our pastor, Fr. Peter Irving, wants all of his parish families to be able to have this beautiful opportunity of Catholic education. He provides as much tuition assistance as is necessary to families who are registered and attend Mass regularly.
How do you recruit new families to your school? What resources do you use to tell your school’s story and connect with like minded families? What insights can you share about what parents are seeking for their children and what your school offers that others don’t.
To date, our primary recruitment mechanism has been word of mouth. Our website includes promotional videos and other resources regarding our transition to Catholic classical liberal arts education and we are also very active on social media (primarily Facebook and Instagram). We have had a handful of families find us specifically because of our transition, though we have predominantly remained a truly parish school. More than anything, I think most parents and other visitors are attracted to the joy that our students clearly exhibit as well as their high level of engagement in the classroom.
How much have you needed to sell your community of parents on the value of the education and formation your school offers? How many parents seek out what your school offers vs. how many need to be convinced? What messaging resonates with parents?
The community of parents we serve is attracted to our school first and foremost out of a desire for authentic faith formation. Since our transition to Catholic classical liberal arts education, they have come to understand that the academic curriculum is one piece of that formation, but not the only or even the most important piece. As principal, I spend a great deal of my time and energy dealing with parents with regard to the formation that they are providing (or not providing) in their homes, encouraging them to take their role of primary educator seriously. While this requires some uncomfortable conversations at times (and has led a few families to seek other options for their children’s education), I believe that we now have a community of parents who truly understand and are committed to our mission of forming students in truth, beauty, and goodness.
How do you determine whether a prospective family will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your application process? What shared values do current families expect you to protect as you add new families to your school community?
First we do an intake form with families who are interested in attend the school.
We test the children (younger kids in a group setting) to see where they are academically and socially.
The teacher reviews the test with the Principal and discusses potential talking points.
The Principal interviews the parents and child.
Why do you want your child to be formed at HIS?
How do you practice your faith?
Describe your family life. Discipline. Schedule.
What is your philosophy on technology?
Shared values: Christ as the foundation. Importance of Sacramental life. Purity of children. Low tech/no tech.
What do you look for when hiring teachers?
I look for teachers who are practicing Catholics. Individuals who have some understanding about Catholic Classical Liberal Education. Professionals who are open and willing to learn and implement classical pedagogy. People who are passionate about teaching subject matter. This may not necessarily mean someone who has a teaching credential.
How do you recruit new teachers? What resources do you use to tell your school’s story and connect with qualified teachers outside of your school community? What insights can you share about what teachers are seeking in a school community and what your school offers that others don’t?
We have advertised open positions on the ICLE website but have primarily found new teachers through deliberate networking with like-minded educators. Our main goal is to get to know candidates personally and assess their commitment to their Catholic faith as best we can. We have found that individuals who are drawn to teaching and are serious about their faith tend to be very enthusiastic about the Catholic classical liberal arts approach to education, so thus far it’s been an easy sell.
How do you determine whether a teacher you are considering hiring will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your interview process? What shared values do current teachers and families expect you to protect as you add new teachers to your school community?
I look at who recommended them and do a background check in regards to faith life and practice. We ask for an application and initial interview. I have the teacher do a lesson. Then the Principal, Vice Principal, and administrative team have a group interview.
Shared values: Practicing Catholic.
How do you train teachers and what have you learned about teacher training?
We have been fortunate enough to have the support of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and an amazing staff that has great gifts in regards to faith life and classical methodology.
We have taken part in the Institute’s summer programs: National Conference and Spirit and Craft in Teaching. We have also had guest speakers and lecturers to teach us mimetic lessons and planning, socratic seminars, etc. We have had faculty reads and discussions during our faculty meetings.
I have learned that teacher training must be very intentional. Forming teachers is a critical aspect of carrying out the mission of the school.
What percentage of your school’s budget is covered by tuition revenue? How important is fundraising to the continued operation of your school? What works best to inspire families and community members to support your school? What doesn’t work? How have you created momentum in your fundraising efforts and what plans do you have to strengthen your fundraising program in the years ahead?
Approximately 40% of our budget is covered by tuition. Fundraising is essential to our existence. To date, we have benefited primarily from the generosity of a small handful of high level benefactors, though our annual fundraising events bring in about $100,000 as well. The most common inspiration for most donors is the fact that we are offering the best education possible to a population that would otherwise have no access to it. We are proving that Catholic classical liberal arts education is not elitist. Rather, it is the birthright of all of God’s children, regardless of where they come from.
Are you the primary fundraiser for your school? How many hours do you spend on fundraising every week? How many hours does other staff spend on fundraising?
We have a Director of Advancement who is primarily responsible for our fundraising efforts, though I am actively involved in building relationships with our benefactors. To that end, I probably spend anywhere from 0–5 hours a week on fundraising, depending on the time of year. Our Director of Advancement spends anywhere from 10–40 hours a week on fundraising, also depending on the time of year.
What have you learned about relationships with those who oversee your school? What are common challenges for schools operating under your model and what is your school doing well that would be helpful for other schools to know about? What advice are you willing to share about how to navigate important and/or challenging relationships?
First and foremost, as a parish school, our relationship with our pastor is everything. He is the spiritual head of our school and his commitment to our mission is the reason our doors are open. Our relationship with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is very positive. While they are not very well versed in the philosophy and practice of Catholic classical liberal arts education, they are supportive of our efforts and allow us to make our own local decisions in that regard.
What is your school known for in your area?
We are known for our faithfulness to the Church and our commitment to Catholic classical liberal arts education.
What is your school’s greatest challenge?
Our school’s greatest challenge is finances. God has been good and has been providing generous benefactors to help. Aside from that, families need a great amount of financial assistance. I would like to pay our teachers a fair and dignified living wage for them to be able to support themselves and their families.
What does your school do better than any other school in your area?
We offer an educational experience that is faithful to the Church and rooted in Christian anthropology. These two elements of our mission are woven through every element of the student and parent experience.
What have our questions not covered that would help clarify the success of your school?
We believe that any success that we have had is a fruit of faithfulness. In essence, our work each day is an act of submission—to the wisdom of the Church for our educational vision and to the grace of God for our continued sustenance.
What is the most important difference between your school and struggling schools?
The most important difference between our school and struggling schools is the real faith community that is centered with the Eucharist.
Share one custom that is unique to your school.
One custom that is unique to our school is the daily intercessory prayer of Mother Luisita (the mother foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles) during morning assembly.
Share one resource that strengthens your school.
Our pastor, Fr. Peter Irving, is our main resource that strengthens our school. Daily Mass, weekly confession, financial assistance for school and the families, and so much more.
Share one tool—online or otherwise—that increases the efficiency or professionalism of your work.
The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools
Educational Plan of St. Jerome
The Seven Laws of Teaching
Share one activity you do regularly that makes you a more effective leader.
One activity that I do regularly is a daily Rosary. This makes me a more effective leader.