Despite snow and bitter cold temperatures that cancelled Catholic Schools Week activities for three days last week, news of increased enrollment offered a sunny and warm outlook for Catholic schools in the Diocese of Green Bay.
The good news came during a gathering Jan. 29 at Sacred Heart School in Shawano, where Bishop David Ricken offered an update to the diocese’s Strategic and Mission Plan for Catholic Schools. (See story on page 1.) It was a year ago, on Jan. 25, 2018, that Bishop Ricken first announced the strategic plan at St. Mary Catholic Middle School in Neenah.
Among the many updates shared last week in Shawano was an uptick in Catholic schools enrollment.
“For the first time in more than two decades, we have seen enrollment grow across all six regions of our diocese — a two percent increase diocesan-wide,” said Peter Murphy, director of the diocesan Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team.
Murphy was repeating the good news announced by Todd Blahnik, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, in the Jan. 25 issue of The Compass.
“The factor driving our growth is visionary school leaders who are able to transform their schools into schools of discipleship,” said Blahnik.
Reversing a trend of decreasing enrollment in Catholic schools is a monumental accomplishment. Nationally, Catholic schools continue to struggle with stagnant or falling enrollment. In fact, attendance in both religious and nonreligious private elementary schools fell from 15 percent of the total K-8 enrollment in 1958 to under 9 percent in 2015, according to a July report published in the journal “Education Next.”
To put these numbers in perspective, the Archdiocese of New York announced Feb. 4 that the archdiocese will close seven Catholic schools next fall.
The ability to buck this downward trend is certainly a feather in the cap of diocesan leaders and bodes well for Bishop Ricken’s “Disciples on the Way.”
This plan for the new evangelization, which Bishop Ricken initiated in 2014, is changing the way the local church reaches out to all people through missionary discipleship: discovering Jesus, following Jesus, worshipping Jesus and sharing Jesus. Now, this discipleship focus is taking hold in our Catholic schools, encouraging school administrators to live and model lives of missionary disciples.
There are, of course, other factors to credit for recent enrollment growth. The strategic plan calls for enhancing academic excellence at all schools through programs such as a small distance learning pilot program, which connects rural school students and urban school teachers. Other factors include an emphasis on family involvement in schools; an increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and growth in Hispanic student enrollment.
Tuition and lack of financial aid continue to be barriers to parents sending their children to Catholic schools. That is why the strategic plan seeks to promote additional funding to Catholic schools through a diocesan capital campaign called “one by One.” More details on this campaign will follow in the months ahead.
All of these initiatives offer hope for Catholic schools and parishes. If you are a parent or grandparent who might be interested in learning more about what Catholic schools have to offer, contact the Office of Catholic Schools, [email protected] dioc.org or (920) 272-8273.