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Faith in the City Project

Inspired by the vision of St. Ignatius “to find God in all things,” this project discerns and communicates the presence of the living God amidst the many challenges found in contemporary urban environments. The project applies Woodstock’s method of theological reflection to those pressing human problems commonly encountered in urban centers like Washington.

As its initial focus the project is engaging stakeholders in the District of Columbia’s elementary and secondary educational system who do not always communicate effectively with one another (such as lawmakers, teachers, administrators, parents, and local clergy and community leaders), to bring them together in a reflective process that acknowledges, explores, and dispels the tensions that can arise between such groups, and which undermine their pursuit of a common goal: providing a high-quality education to every child in the District of Columbia.

It is important that such dialogue be fostered at this time. DC’s educational system is undergoing a period of unprecedented change – with the Archdiocese of Washington’s recent conversion of several inner-city Catholic schools to public charter schools, the broader growth of the charter school system, the recent transformation of DC Public Schools’ administrative structure by the Mayor and City Council, and the new DCPS Chancellor’s commitment to dramatically reshaping the nature of elementary and secondary education in the District. In the eyes of many community leaders and observers, such changes have the potential to serve as transformational forces for incredible good – or to exacerbate dramatic inequalities that already exist in the delivery of quality education. In undertaking such bold changes, it is essential that all the groups involved have a trust in one another’s good intentions, and believe that they are all sincerely working toward a shared goal – lest mutual suspicion or acrimony undermine the major educational reforms that are so desperately needed.

Father Raymond Kemp, Director of Faith in the City, Leading a Woodstock Forum for students at Georgetown University

Building on the successful model employed in other projects, Woodstock will guide key stakeholders through a process of discerning their deepest shared values and confronting questions such as “What does it mean for a child to receive a high-quality education in DC? How do we ensure that the poorest of the poor and new arrivals are getting their due?” Woodstock’s process of value reflection will broaden all parties’ perspectives, to look beyond their individual interests to the larger picture of ensuring a high-quality education for all of DC’s children.

This project builds on the unique background and expertise of Woodstock senior fellow Father Ray Kemp, with his decades of experience in DC education, his experience as pastor of an inner-city parish and former elected member of the DC School Board, and his active engagement with personnel in the new DCPS Chancellor’s office and at the City Council.

The project’s activities and publications will provide an invaluable model and framework for dioceses and school systems in urban centers around the country that must undertake a similar dialogue of stakeholders, as they face the same financial constraints as DC, and the prospect of closing or radically re-envisioning their schools.