Eternal education: Interim Superintendent Melissa Kasmeier measures more than test scores
FORT WORTH — Melissa Kasmeier waits a long time to measure success.
As interim superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Fort Worth, she could track accomplishment by test scores, academic growth, or graduation rates. And while those metrics are assessed and valuable, her first priority is eternal. “Truly, it’s about the salvation of souls. That’s the importance [of Catholic education],” she said.
The Catholic schools in the diocese provide excellent academics, asserted Kasmeier, but she’s watching to see that these young students develop in the future into leaders within the Church and incorporate Catholic values into their daily living.
“Our students are so much more than a test score... Being disciples of Christ, that’s the big picture. That’s true success,” she said.
This criterion is so important to her that she’s chosen to focus on it for the doctoral dissertation that she’ll complete later this year at Texas Wesleyan University. Titled “More than a test score: Cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes in Catholic education,” it represents three years of her studies into the long-term benefits of Catholic education.
Kasmeier’s work in Catholic education began in 2012, when she joined St. Andrew Catholic School as assistant principal after working in the public school system for 17 years as a teacher and principal.
She was named principal of the Fort Worth school in 2014, then became assistant superintendent of diocesan schools in 2016.
During the first four years as assistant superintendent, she and then superintendent Jennifer Pelletier improved services to students with learning differences, transitioned to a more classical Catholic education approach, and increased professional development for teachers, among other achievements.
But 2020 demanded a new set of priorities: how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of students and staff while providing a robust education.
The situation was full of unknowns, but the administrative team had one certainty — that in-person education was best for the students.
Last summer, Kasmeier remembered, was especially intense. “The number of decisions to be made in a day” was extensive, in an atmosphere where everyone — teachers, health experts, parents, principals — was struggling with fear and anxiety.
Navigating the school reopening was “a courageous overcoming,” she recalled. At that time, public schools were delaying the start of school and reducing in-person learning, so their decision to reopen was not self-evident. With the benefit of hindsight, she sees the health protocols implemented by the schools successfully balanced health concerns along with educational needs.
Despite the challenges, Kasmeier remembers those months as a time when she felt especially close to God. “With this pandemic, it’s provided a lot of challenges; however, I would say there are so many beautiful gifts that have come from that.” As an educator, she saw parents, teachers, and principals “relying on and trusting in God for Him to guide us.”
Personally, she said, “Not going through this before, I really relied on Christ for clarity and guidance to do His will. It’s a daily prayer.”
Even after the schools had opened, adjustments had to be made throughout the school year to balance safety with relaxing protocols. Sometimes academic needs, such as benefits of reading groups for early readers, were juxtaposed with health concerns of keeping students socially distanced.
With the doors closed on the 2020-2021 school year, Kasmeier can see that along with the trials of education during a pandemic, blessings were also present. She mentioned the schools gained more technological savvy as virtual options were implemented. With this experience, she expects to see more collaboration between the schools despite the geographic distance between them. For example, third grade teachers could meet virtually to compare successful techniques for engaging their students in a particular subject.
During much of her tenure as assistant superintendent, Kasmeier has filled multiple roles. For 18 months, she also has been interim principal of St. Andrew Catholic School, and in April she added the responsibilities of interim superintendent.
Not to mention she’s the mother of three daughters — one a graduate of Nolan Catholic High School and two currently enrolled in diocesan Catholic schools.
How does one wear multiple hats? By following the advice she gives her daughters and the St. Andrew students.
She said, “During a difficult moment, settle yourself, breathe, and call upon the Holy Spirit. Through Christ you have the strength to do what you are called to do at that moment in time.
“What is God calling me to do right now? I have to remind myself, ‘What am I called to do today?’ Not in the future, because I’m a planner and a goal setter and always thinking ahead, but let’s live in the moment. What’s God calling me to today?”
Kasmeier seeks quiet times and spaces in Adoration and outside in nature to hear God amid the busy days.
Ultimately, the need to juggle the obligations of several positions has proven to be a “great blessing,” Kasmeier explained. She understands the policies and expectations set by the diocesan administrative team, plus she gets a firsthand look at the implementation of those decisions in the halls and classrooms of St. Andrew. And finally, as a parent, she witnesses the struggles and the triumphs that students experience.
Another blessing — in her role as interim principal, she catches glimpses that reveal the ultimate success of Catholic education.
Kasmeier has instituted the opportunity for Adoration after school at St. Andrew twice each week. One day, she heard a fifth-grade boy mention to another that after a hard day at school, he went into the Adoration chapel and the stress and worries went away.
“I thought, ‘I wish I would have learned that at 10 or 11,’” Kasmeier said. “That’s the beauty of Catholic school.”