Reversing the Trend the State of Catholic Schools in the Suburbs Schools Using New Tools to Keep Up Enrollment

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

Reversing the Trend the State of Catholic Schools in the Suburbs Schools Using New Tools to Keep Up Enrollment


Byline: Anna Madrzyk and Kerry Lester amadrzyk@dailyherald.com klester@dailyherald.com

As are a number of Catholic schools, St. Alexander is struggling with declining enrollment.

So, the Villa Park school is marketing itself on the silver screen: 15-second spots tout its "warm and nurturing" environment, small classes and daily P.E. The commercials are running for 28 weeks at the York Theatre in Elmhurst.

"We thought we needed to do something a little

different," Principal Glenn Purpura said.

St. Alexander, which will recoup its $8,000 investment if just two additional students register next year, is one of several Catholic schools turning to creative measures to attract more students.

Declining enrollment and the tough economy are hitting some suburban Catholic schools hard, while others u blessed, in part, by demographics u are managing to flourish. Overall, Catholic schools arenAEt losing as many students as they were several years ago, although the full brunt of the recession and job layoffs wonAEt be realized until the new school year starts in the fall. And despite the high-profile, traumatic closing of Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison, which had its last day of classes this week, enrollment at most suburban Catholic high schools is stable.

"The fact that Driscoll closed is not an indication of the Catholic school system as a whole," said Doug Delaney, spokesman for the Joliet Diocese, which supervises DuPage schools.

A closer look at Catholic school enrollment figures shows the steep declines of five or six years ago have leveled off. Elementary enrollment in suburban Cook County Catholic schools has plummeted 31 percent since 2002-03, but dropped only 3.8 percent in the past school year. High school enrollment fell 8.5 percent during the same period, but less than 1 percent of the decline took place in 2008-09.

The pattern is the same throughout the suburbs. Enrollment in Lake and DuPage County Catholic high schools dipped just 1 percent in the past year. Elementary school enrollment fell 3.8 percent in Lake County and 1.4 percent in DuPage in the same year.

And in the Rockford Diocese, which oversees schools in the Fox Valley, high school totals held steady while elementary enrollment went up slightly.

"At this point, weAEre hopeful that families are continuing to choose Catholic schools," said Ryan Blackburn, director of marketing and communications for the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools, overseers of schools in Cook and Lake counties.

But despite this optimism, some individual schools are struggling, especially in older or less-affluent areas.

The Joliet Diocese has hired Meitler Consultants Inc., a Wisconsin firm that specializes in strategic planning for schools and parishes, to analyze enrollment trends and make projections. The consultants recently submitted a preliminary report to Bishop J. Peter Sartain and the board.

"ItAEs just a preliminary study to get an outside look at some of these issues, because itAEs so emotional," Delaney said. No decision on school closings or mergers is expected for a year.

"WeAEre trying to do the best we can. We love schools. WeAEd like to keep them all open; itAEs just not possible," Delaney said.

Earlier this year, the diocese gave schools that seemed to be on the bubble an opportunity to make an early recommendation about their own fates. Christ the King School in Lombard, which had just 70 students in 2008-2009, will become an early learning center for ages 3 to 5 starting this fall. …

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