For several years, it seemed as if Catholic education in Kenosha County would follow the country-wide trend – the shuttering of parish-run schools.

studentlaptopsEighth-grade students, left to right, Mady Scopp, Raul Mr. Chavez-Gutierrez and Leah Castillo work on laptops at St. Joseph Catholic Academy’s middle and high school campus in Kenosha, in this photo taken during the 2011-2012 school year. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Joseph Catholic Academy)In 2008, plans for an affordable educational model began when then-Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan made the collaboration of community-wide resources the focus of his strategic plan for Catholic schools. Since July 2010, the Kenosha Collaborative for Catholic Education developed a model to sustain Catholic education for Kenosha and the surrounding area.

After St. Peter and Mt. Carmel/St. Therese schools closed in May 2011, All Saints Catholic School opened for K4-8 grades in the fall on two campuses, replacing the former St. Mary and Holy Rosary grade school locations.

St. Joseph Academy opened in fall 2010 to educate Pre-K through grade 12, on two campuses, with the consolidation of the former St. Joseph High School, St. Joseph Inter-parish Junior High and St. Mark Elementary School.

While the transition was difficult for students, faculty, staff and generations of families who appreciated the intimacy of parish-run schools, all 10 Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie parishes agreed to financially support both school models. This model would allow for a greater pool of resources and make education more affordable.

School officials hoped the Catholic community would not only accept both models, but that the schools would become sustainable. However, no one expected just how successful both models would be.

Enrollment numbers rising

Wrapping up its first year, All Saints Academy added 60 new families to initial fall enrollment numbers, bringing the total to 454 students. Nearly 100 new students are registered for the 2012-2013 school year, with predictions of a 550-member student body.

Word is getting out regarding the quality of affordable Catholic education at All Saints, according to principal Jackie Lichter. She is pleased with the renewed enthusiasm for Catholic education, as well as the pronounced school spirit evidenced by the number of families wearing spirit-wear and attending school functions.

“The children are very proud of All Saints Catholic School,” she said. “We have started a number of successful programs, such as cheerleading with more than 40 girls, track and field, basketball, volleyball and now football. We have a chess club with more than 70 students involved, and have hosted a citywide chess tournament. Our two campuses come together for Mass on a monthly basis, attend field trips together, pen pal, Skype and share projects.”

Teachers from both campuses gather weekly for meetings, staff development, curriculum planning and faith formation. This semester they viewed Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” as a staff and reflected on their own faith journeys.

“The teachers and staff members are outstanding,” said Lichter. “They have fully embraced the changes and have formed a close community. Teachers volunteer to help out before and after school, and are often present at weekend events as well. I feel so blessed to be serving such a highly committed, dedicated and faith-filled group of educators. They are leaders.”

Catholic parents look for options

With layoffs and larger class sizes in the Kenosha Unified Public School System, some Catholic parents are looking for options in educating their children. While there were families open to Catholic education, most were not prepared to make the financial commitment until the changes in the public school system were unveiled. studentsgoggles

“This has led them to take the next step toward Catholic education,” said Lichter. “We have made ourselves available in the community through a variety of ways, such as parish outreach Masses on Sunday. Some are members at one of the 10 parishes and others are looking for a parish to join. When a Catholic family not connected to a parish registers for the school, I spend some time talking to them about their options and sharing with them the different charisms present in each parish. Usually I follow this up with a call to a pastor in hopes that a connection can be made.”

With support from the Kenosha Catholic community, All Saints is thriving. Five priests teach in the school and eight priests celebrate Mass with the children.

“We have spent the year learning about the patron saints of the 10 parishes,” said Lichter. “The Catholic Women’s Club and Serra Club have invited me to come and talk about the school, which has helped bring the school to the community and vice versa. We get together monthly with the administrators from St. Joseph Catholic Academy to continue to build up the presence of our Catholic schools in the community.”

Students also participate in a variety of local service projects, and raising funds for local organizations. Recently, students raised money to fund the tuition for a boy who lost his mother to cancer.

Students are excelling academically

Academically, students are excelling, with the student body scoring in the 70-95 percentile.

“Fr. Dwight Campbell teaches our eighth grade religion classes and often comments on what a ‘bright group of students they are,’” Lichter said. “We took first place in the Academic Bowl and have won a variety of awards for both academics and in the arts. We (had) a fifth grade musical (in) May. I am so grateful for the progress we have made. God is truly present here at All Saints through our children, our parents, our teachers, staff, board, priests, deacons and religious sisters.”

In its second year as the new legal entity of St. Joseph Catholic Academy, principal Edward Kovochich is pleased with enrollment of 753. The figure represents a 22 percent increase, up 14 percent this year with a 5 percent increase anticipated for next year.

“The whole City of Kenosha for Catholic education is very nicely stabilized,” he said. “All Saints is doing well, and St. Joe’s is everybody’s high school, so we pick up the All Saints students. The reality for Kenosha Catholic is that we have met Archbishop Listecki’s litmus test of accessible, affordable and sustainable Catholic education. With this model of collaboration, I can send my son or daughter to a K-8 or 9-12 system or a K-5, middle school and high school model. You just don’t see that everywhere.”

New this year is the inclusion of laptop computers for each student in grades five and up. Originally, laptop computers were provided for grades six and up, but staff determined that offering the computers to younger students would help them in the transition from the lower K-5 campus to the middle and high school campus.

ACT scores highest in Kenosha County

In addition to shared facilities, the academy offers an in-depth curriculum that includes 21st Century learning skill styles. The academy has an extensive foreign language component, including Spanish, French, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese available for all K-12 students.

studentsFourth-grade student Ellie Bernhardt looks over second-grader Lyla Zapp’s shoulder in a classroom at St. Joseph Catholic Academy’s lower campus in Kenosha in this photo taken during the 2011-2012 school year. (Submitted photo courtesy St. Joseph Catholic Academy)“Academically, the students are doing very well, in fact, at our Board of Counselors in May, we (showed) that our GPAs reflect almost 80 percent of our students are above 3.2. Our ACT test scores are the highest in Kenosha County over all public and private schools,” said Kovochich. “Our in-house statistics indicate a slight increase again and we will keep pushing the bar on this. We also maintain electronic portfolios all predicated with curriculum maps and skill sets that become artifacts and give the children a selling point as they go off to college.”

As with All Saints, Catholicism is immersed in school life, whether academically or in extracurricular activities. Student, staff or teacher-led prayer precedes all meetings, classes, sporting events and other activities; in fact, a sixth grade science teacher recently joked to a surprised Kovochich that prayer was also institutionalized. 

“I guess they were studying physics and fossils and they forgot to start with prayer, so one of the students brought it up,” he explained. “So that makes me happy because the students are realizing the importance of prayer being the focus and center of all that we do.”

Model capturing nationwide attention

Kovochich believes students who learn in a Christ-centered atmosphere will become strong Catholic adults.

The 10-parish supported education model is capturing the attention of Catholic schools across the country, and Kovochich and school president, Robert Freund host presentations on Skype explaining the model to school officials.

“We tell them not to just rearrange the deck chairs; there are so many things that can be changed to collaborate Catholic education and make it faith-centered and sustainable,” said Kovochich. “We have a strategic plan and a depth in our curriculum and student life with timelines of 247 items that we hope to accomplish in the next two to three years.”

All Saints tuition is lower than the tuition at St. Joseph Academy, but Kovochich hopes that once the archdiocese recognizes the stability of both school models, that tuition will be regulated across the board.