What's the Answer for Catholic Schools?

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National Catholic Schools Week 2013

National Catholic Schools Week 2013

In a routine check last night for “Catholic” news, the headline caught my attention: A waiting list? Catholic schools shout hallelujah. Curiosity piqued, I clicked through to read the good news about Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School in Liberty Township, OH — a Catholic elementary school with a waiting list.

I’m interested in this particular topic for a few reasons. I’m a product of lifelong Catholic education and my own boys attended Catholic elementary school before moving along to a charter high school. In addition, I’m blessed to be involved on a volunteer basis with our diocesan Catholic schools. This has given me a front row seat for some of the enrollment goals and shortfalls  plaguing many Catholic schools. So when I hear good news about numbers at our schools, I pay attention.

The article mentioned above doesn’t really do much to answer my question: “What the answer for Catholic schools?”. That’s likely because there’s no one single formula for success and stability. Our issues are complex, regional, and shifting. What works in suburban California is not likely the formula for success in urban Philadelphia. But in praying over this issue, I also realize that here at CatholicMom.com we have a pretty amazing “think tank” of readers. I would love to begin an ongoing conversation on what’s working in our schools, how we go about increasing enrollment, and what makes our Catholic schools such amazing learning and service environments. This will hopefully include profiling wonderful Catholic schools and spreading the word about our success stories.

CSWlogo-06-250Let’s start the dialogue today by asking our readers to share the name and location of your Catholic school and to list one positive attribute of your school. This can be an excellent teacher or principal, a unique program, a special religion curriculum, or even a fantastic facility report. To prime the conversation, I will be offering one signed copy of my second book, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, as a prize for one of our commenters. To be entered to win, simply leave a comment below about your favorite Catholic school by midnight Pacific time on Saturday, January 5th. One commenter will be randomly selected to win the book, but I hope this will more importantly prompt a helpful start to our conversation on Catholic schools.

Copyright 2012 Lisa M. Hendey

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About Author

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of CatholicMom.com and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at LisaHendey.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaHendey and "like" her on Facebook @LisaMHendey.

23 Comments

  1. My daughter attends Kindergarten at St. James and St. Anne’s Catholic School in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. She is our first child to attend. The Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Robbins, is a wonderful instructor who cares for the children. This is the first year that they have started an “Outdoor Kindergarten” program. The class spends two hours every morning outdoors (they only stay inside in extreme weather) exploring the park that is next to the school. It is a fabulous program and my daughter is thriving. We are so thankful that we can send Hannah to St. James and we look forwrad to our son attending in a few years.

  2. Joe Ciccoianni on

    Joe Ciccoianni, Assistant Principal of St. Pius V Catholic School in Buena Park, CA. There are many positive attributes of our school, but I think the one that is most important is the way we try to live our mission statement’s call to “build God’s kingdom.” Whether it be through engaging our community in charitable work, teaching/learning the Faith, worshiping together, or just trying to get along on the playground, all of our efforts are guided by this call.

  3. Hi Lisa and everyone else,

    We considered sending our boys to the school outlines in the article, but one would have been on a waiting list in 2007, so we enrolled them in another Catholic School. These days we attend the other parish mentioned in that article, St. Susanna. There is a two-fold issue, the first is the population shift from the inner cities to the far suburbs. Liberty township and other nearby communities have grown exponentially in the past 20 years. Another factor I find frustrating is that 2 or the three parishes in the community do not have parish schools. In the late 80’s one of those parishes spawned a badly needed new parish. I have been told by a friend of mine that she was a part of this new parish and parents got together and raised money to build a school and the pastor decided not to build a school. I have no idea as to the why’s and wherefores, but I find it frustrating that the Pastor did not support the building of a new school, so Mother Theresa was opened.

    My older son will be graduating from Archbishop Moeller High school in the spring. My Younger so is currently in the public school since I pulled him from the Catholic school almost 4 years ago do to social issues he was having. I was disappointed in the results, but he is thriving. He will attend Moeller in Fall of 2014.

  4. My daughter is in Kindergarten at Saint Anastasia Catholic School in Ft Pierce Florida. We decided to send her there for so many different reasons but the biggest was that in this school she would be nurtured not only in body and mind but her soul as well. As a product of Catholic School I know that this is more important than ever!

  5. My children all attend St. James RC school in Seaforth , Ontario, Canada. I too attended this school. We have a wonderful Principal that has an open door for anyone. She truly cares about the children and staff. I volunteer once a month as a Rosary Visitor and enjoy teaching the children how to pray the rosary. This is my 4th year and every year it amazes me that the children remembered what I taught them the year before in our lessons. God is at work and it is nice to see it when we look at our children. Tracey

  6. My 5th-grader attends St. Charles Borromeo Parish School, Cinnaminson, NJ. I believe that its strength comes from the partnership between the pastor and the principal. Father PJ is often present in the school and he wants the whole parish to be invested in its success. He and the principal work together to foster Christian community in an atmosphere of academic excellence.

    My 11th-grader attends Holy Cross High School, Delran, NJ. It stands out for its dedicated faculty and staff that truly get to know and care about the students. As an example, her Chem teacher this year was also her Geoscience teacher two years ago. He teaches probably 200 students a year, but he was able to identify study skills that she had improved upon in the interval between courses.

    I already own the book–I just wanted to join the conversation because Catholic education is a high priority for my family and I’m curious about what other schools in other areas do to ensure success.

  7. Our daughter attends first grade at St. Mary’s in Lincoln, NE. It is the same grade school that I attended when I was younger. We like St. Mary’s because of the small class size and the diversity of the students.

  8. I think Catholic schools need to demonstrate that they can give a superior education both academically and morally. (People have left Catholic schools in part because they think they can get the same education t public schools fo free.) One way would be to embrace a classical curriculum and also include an emphasis on STEM. I also think its imperative to give truly inspirational character education to the kids. To do this, the leadership (priest and principal) need to hire and cultivate teachers of virtue and the Catholic Faith. We also need to somehow make Catholc education affordable for the average person in the pews with kids….maybe this is through greater stewardship, more creative fundraising, teachers who can or are willing to work for less… NW is the time to e creative, think outside the box, and inspire the next generation in all aspects of faith nd reason.

  9. I am a product of a Catholic education where the teachers were all brothers and sisters. My children attended Catholic schools. I taught in the public school system for 22 years, but now am truly blessed to be teaching at a Catholic school. It’s about the standards. School was hard and we had to study. Our parents had to be involved. I know that I was way more involved in my children’s school and lives that many of the students I taught. Don’t get me wrong, I had some very involved parents in the public school, but no where near the percentage that I have now. It’s also amazing to be able to incorporate God into every one of my lessons. We need to teach our children that God is a part of every aspect of our lives. Catholic schools are able to freely do that!

  10. My husband went to the Catholic schools of Lincoln, Nebraska, my nephews go there, and our children will be attending those schools when we move there in the summer of 2014. We can’t wait to get our children into those schools! We believe that the Catholic schools across the city are thriving because: the grade school students attend daily Mass, the tuition is subsidized by the Archdiocese of Lincoln so it is very affordable for families (this also means that the schools are not merely a status symbol and there is greater diversity), and there is a plethora of priests and religious sisters within the schools to teach and promote vocations. Because the tuition of the schools is subsidized by the Archdiocese, the parish boundaries are more strictly enforced. This ensures that families within those boundaries attend that parish school and don’t “opt into” what they find to be the better school. I believe this creates stronger allegiances to parishes and keeps the families invested in the schools (literally and figuratively) well beyond the years that their own children attend the school.

  11. Lisa posting for “j”:

    My children eagerly attend St. Irene Catholic School in Warrenville,IL.!
    We switched over from our public school two years+ years ago when our parish school was threatened to close due to low enrollment.
    Our school is Christ centered and so loving…I did not know what we were missing!
    I am a cradle Catholic and my kids know so much more about their faith and well grounded in it, much more than I knew (unfortunately) until a few years ago!
    THIS ALONE IS WORTH EVERY PENNY OF TUITION!
    The caring teachers lavish love and attention on their students, and it shows! The well rounded students consistently score well above the average national levels academically and are always quick to help people in need.
    We considered moving to another locale but, decided not to because of this fabulous loving school!
    I can’t stress how happy we have been with teachers, principal, staff, and fellow families (-also great!)!
    Our children have blossomed at St. Irene and we cannot picture ourselves at another school!
    We are so thankful for St. Irene School!
    God Bless!

  12. My sons attended Catholic grade school and high school in Lincoln, Nebraska. My daughter is a 5th grader at Cathedral of the Risen Christ grade school in Lincoln. There are many reasons we believe in Catholic education for our children. I love that they attend daily mass and have religion in school. Our school integrates Catholic beliefs and doctrine along with academic excellence. Plus, the classes are smaller than public school. Each student is known and valued. Another reason I love our Catholic school is that, along with parents, the teachers and staff teach respect — respect for life being paramount. The discipline aspect of our school is really wonderful and the studenst learn early how to treat their classmates, friends, parents, etc. They know what is expected of them and that there will be consequences to poor choices and behavior. I wholeheartedly recommend our Catholic schools. In addition, our Catholic High School is extremely competitive in the academic sense and approximately 90% go on to college with many, many scholarships.

  13. My kids attend St. Bridget School in Framingham, MA. We love that the school is firmly routed in its Catholic identity and the principal always reminds visitors that it is first and foremost a Catholic school. The school is able to compete with public schools and other private schools because it offers full time preschool and kindergarten programs along with an extended day program and it is very careful with the budget so tuition remains low. For working parents with young kids, it’s an ideal setting vs. paying for full time kindergarten and after school programs at public schools. The kindergarten has had a wait list for a number of years. We are grateful we are able to send our kids to Catholic school.

  14. Michele Faehnle on

    As a “lifer” of Catholic Schools (graduate of catholic grade school, high school and college) I knew it was really important for my children to attend good Catholic Schools. They are currently enrolled in St. Agatha Catholic School in Columbus, Ohio. One thing our school is currently doing to proactively help our future is develop a strategic plan. With a declining enrollment and tuition increases, the school board was proactive and formed a strategic planning committee with several subcommittees. Our schools plan can be seen online here – http://www.saintagathaschool.org/files/StrategicPlanFinal.pdf
    After taking courses through the diocese, the strategic plan was developed and 4 subcommittees were formed – alternative revenue, enrollment, development and Catholic Identity. I co-chair our Catholic Identity committee and our goal is to integrate Catholicism into all aspects of the school and help the children develop a personal relationship with God through the Sacraments. We are very blessed to have a wonderful principal who is spearheading all of this and supporting us. We have met with great successes such as instituting a monthly family mass where families come together for mass before school starts in addition to school masses.
    Thank you Lisa for posting this topic as we are always looking for ways to make our Catholic School better! Another good resource are the materials from this symposium – http://www.omearaferguson.com/catholicschoolfinancing/
    It walks you through making a plan for your school. Here is also a link for a radio program I heard with Pat O’ Meara on Kresta in the Afternoon about the revitalization of Catholic Schools. http://krestaintheafternoon.blogspot.com/2012/03/today-on-kresta-in-afternoon-for-march_09.html

  15. My sons are in Pre-K and 3rd grade at St. Pius X School in Yarmouth, MA, and there is not room or time enough for me to say all of the things I love about our school. The school is growing steadily (we added another 3rd and 4th grade class this year) and I am excited to be part of the team working on our five year strategic plan. Maybe what I appreciate most about the school is the degree to which I feel our teachers, staff and administration care for our children, as a group and individually, as students and as people.

  16. My son attends St. John Bosco in Phoenix, AZ. The best thing about our school is the tight-knit community. Having a community that values morals and care for one another while providing our children with a quality education in both academics and life skills is, by far, the best aspect of our school.

  17. My children attend St. Joseph School of All Saints Parish in Haverhill, MA. One positive attribute of our school is the variety of extracurricular activities we offer. Of course, we have sports, but we also have a plethora of clubs and activities, such as Shutterbug (photography), Cooking, and LEGO. We’re also building a marching band and closely tie our parish’s Youth Group and Christmas and Easter Pageants to the school, giving our students more opportunities and encouraging them to get to know parish children who attend public school. All of these opportunities allows SJS students to explore different interests and get to know students from other grades and schools, helping them to grow into well-rounded adults who look for similarities with others rather than differences.

  18. Kathy Cully Ayuyao on

    My girls attend St. Cecilia School in Tustin, CA. One of my two sons does attend public school, since it better meets his needs. Our school is small and that is one of the things I like best about it, is that I know almost everyone. When good or bad things happen to one of our community we are apart of it. We lift each other up and support each other and our children. I know if I ever had an emergency, all I have to do is pick up my phone and call one of the other parents or one of the teachers and someone would pitch in for me.

    I also love how much the school, meaning the teachers, cares about each of my children. We have wonderful teachers and they will do what it takes to help them. My son was originally there and I couldn’t believe the support they gave us to make it the best place for him.

  19. What I like most about my kids school, Saints Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville, KY is the attendance at Mass. Each Friday the whole school Pre-K – 8th grade attends Mass together. The 1st – 8th grade also attend one other day per week. My kids gain so much from going to Mass during the week. I’ve read and heard of other catholic schools that don’t attend Mass weekly.

    The ability to attend Mass and to pray is wonderful.

    One other beautiful thing our kids do that is amazing is stand outside for funeral processions. After a funeral Mass, our children stand in 2 lines outside the church, hands folded, with deep respect. The hearse, followed by family member vehicles and other parishioners vehicles are surrounded by prayer as they leave to go to the grave site. It is a sight to see. Beautiful.

  20. Courtney Schreiner on

    My children are not yet of age to be in elementary school, but we are looking forward to them attending our parish school. It was actually a big factor in where we bought a house. Our diocese (Lincoln, Ne) is blessed with so many great Catholic schools. There are 11 just in our city! I was blessed to have worked at one of the schools for 5 years before being called to be a mother over 3 years ago. What I loved about the school I taught in was the wonderful staff I worked with who were passionate about bringing our students closer to Christ in all their daily activities, and the great support we received from the parents of our students. It was truly a Christian community! I could not have imagined working anywhere else!

  21. Between my two sons, they have been students at 5 different Catholic schools. My youngest is an 8th grader at Transfiguration School in Oakdale,MN. There are many reasons it is a thriving school. We have a wonderful priest who does not “water down” the Catholic faith, and is very involved in the school. He talks directly to the students during school and Sunday night Masses. Our principal is an amazing woman who is also very active and visable in the school. The teachers are all very dedicated, which is apparent in our student’s national test scores. Tuition is kept very reasonable by required volunteer hours, 20 per year, and also mandatory participation in the SCRIP program (or a one time donation of money per year). Our students and families are very proud of theri school!

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