Kelly Branaman, a 17-year veteran of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Schools Office who on July 1 became interim superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, said she is anxious to experience “how wonderful it is to have the joy of children back in our buildings.”

“The first thing I am looking forward to is welcoming back our students, families and faculty to our Catholic schools and to thank them for their commitment to Catholic education, to thank them for their extraordinary response to distance learning and to thank them for their preparation for this school year approaching,” Branaman said.

Branaman’s tenure as interim superintendent of Catholic Schools began after William Ryan III, the Archdiocese of Washington’s secretary for Catholic schools for the past year and superintendent of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools for the previous four years, stepped down June 30 to become superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.

Branaman said she still marvels at how well archdiocesan schools met the challenge of abruptly closing their doors in March and implementing distance learning as a safety precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. Catholic schools closed on Friday, March 13, and began virtual classes on Monday, March 16.

“Looking at how the last school year ended, I think our teachers and school leaders demonstrated the most exceptional professionalism, courage, creativity and determination to continue to not only teach and form our children, but to maintain the level of community we are so known for in Catholic schools,” she said. “We hit the ground running, and did not lose a day of instruction. The Archdiocese of Washington is not small – to be that large and to pivot that quickly (to distance learning) without any loss of time is absolutely incredible.”

A combined total of about 26,000 students attend classes at more than 90 archdiocesan and independent Catholic pre-kindergarten through high schools located in the Archdiocese of Washington. The archdiocese’s Catholic schools are located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

Branaman also credits the outstanding work done by parents of Catholic school students in continuing to provide a quality education and formation to students during this time of quarantine.

“I think the greatest strength of our Catholic schools is our partnership with our parents. In its truest form, we are equal partners in educating their child,” she said. “The steps they take to say they want their child educated in a Catholic school demonstrates the sacrifice and commitment of the parent to enter into that partnership.”

Branaman noted that those steps parents take to provide a quality Catholic education for their children include not only paying tuition, but “helping with homework at the end of a busy day, serving in leadership capacities, participating in Home and School (Association) events and volunteering in our schools.”

Right now, Branaman and the Archdiocese of Washington Reopening of Schools Task Force are working on a plan to safely reopen Catholic schools at the start of the new school year.

“Reopening our schools in a manner that is safe for our students and faculty is our priority,” she said. “Health and safety protocols are being established based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, local health departments, and local jurisdictions.”

She added that the task force is devising “habits and routines that promote safety and good health throughout our schools.”

A native of Indiana who grew up on a dairy farm, Branaman converted to the Catholic faith as a young woman. She began her career in Catholic education “when I was 22 years old and was involved in my parish as a newly inducted Catholic and they were looking for a fifth-grade teacher.” That was at St. Ambrose School in Seymour, Indiana.

“To be a newly converted Catholic joining a Catholic school very early in my teaching career strengthened my own faith. It’s the foundation of the faith I have today,” she said. “I have had the privilege of integrating my life in the Church through the vocation of education.”

Converting to the Catholic faith is an experience she shares with Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory. “I find inspiration in his (Archbishop Gregory’s) own story of conversion,” Branaman said. “When I met him, it was extraordinarily personal to me that he was also a convert, and we were able to discuss our shared experience of being drawn to the faith at different times in our lives.”

Branaman added that when she meets newly hired Catholic school teachers, “I like to share my story about being a convert new to the school community.  I learned so much from my fifth-grade students. Teaching in a Catholic school changed me as a Catholic and impacted the path I chose as a career and vocation.”

As interim superintendent of Catholic schools, Branaman said her new position “is a more active role in front as opposed to behind the scenes, and includes a greater role working with pastors, specifically pastors newly assigned to schools.” She also praised the outgoing superintendent, saying “Bill and I have worked closely together during his entire tenure. I am grateful for everything he has shared with me and I have learned from him.”

During her 17 years working in the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office, Branaman has held a variety of positions, including special education coordinator, special education director, curriculum director, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, associate superintendent, and associate superintendent for strategic planning and school operations. She also previously served as interim superintendent of schools in 2015 as a search was underway that ultimately led to Ryan being hired.

“I like to joke that I have seven different Catholic Schools Office business cards,” she said.

Over the years, Branaman has been recognized for her contributions to Catholic education. In 2017, she was honored on the national level when the National Catholic Educational Association presented her with a “Lead. Learn. Proclaim.” Award. That honor recognizes outstanding educators for their contribution to Catholic schooling.

In her new position, Branaman said she will continue working on the Catholic Schools Office’s five-year strategic plan. This school year will be the fourth year in the long-range plan that includes meeting with teachers, principals and parents “to formulate initiatives that are in line with the four pillars of Catholic education.” Those pillars are: Catholic identity; academic excellence; affordability and accessibility; and governance.

“Over the past four years, our teachers have had a wide variety of professional development in the area of faith formation. We looked at teaching as a vocation, and then we looked at the students and their individual needs, and we looked at parents and families,” she said. For the 2021 school year, our theme is ‘Community’ – with an emphasis on unity.”

The theme was chosen, she said, because “we celebrate diversity across this archdiocese, and the sense of unity and the response to diversity is more important now than ever before. Our model is Catholic social teaching that sees and respects the dignity of every human being.”

This year, Catholic schools will also undergo a national accreditation visit this fall. “This is our second cycle of hosting a national accreditation visit,” Branaman said. “I am pleased that this accreditation visit is fully aligned to our strategic plan.”

As she assumes her new duties, Branaman said “the best part” of her job will be “meeting with and working with the staff, pastors, principals and teachers, the parents and the community that we have in the Archdiocese of Washington.”

“At this leadership level, it is my job to support and lead those who provide what parents are seeking for their children in a Catholic education – formation in the tradition of the Catholic faith, academic excellence, diversity, a safe environment and teachers dedicated to meeting the needs of their individual students,” she said. “I am looking forward to doing that, and I am pleased to serve in this role.”