When Kenosha’s All Saints Catholic Elementary School opened its doors for the first time in fall 2011, enrollment was 454 students.
Two years later, enrollment at the 4K-8 school, formed through the consolidation of four Catholic schools serving 10 parishes in the Kenosha area, increased to 578 and is expected to top 600 students in 2014-2015.
“We already have 50 new students registered for next year and hope to gain another 40 students. Our goal is 605 students. That would be wonderful,” said Jackie Lichter, lead principal.
All Saints is one of 54 elementary and secondary schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to record enrollment increases between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.
This is the second year of enrollment increases in the past three years for the archdiocese, according to Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of schools.
“Over the past four years, our annual enrollment has not fluctuated by more than 2 percent,” Cepelka said.
Overall enrollment remains steady
Enrollment figures provided by Cepelka’s office show pre-kindergarten through high school enrollment at 31,944 compared with 31,984 in 2010-2011.
Total enrollment in Catholic schools nationwide fell nearly 12 percent between the 2007-2008 and 2012-13 school years, according to a February 2013 report by the National Catholic Education Association.
“I believe there is an increasing desire on the part of parents across the diocese to have their children benefit from a quality, faith-based Catholic education,” Cepelka said.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, celebrating Mass Jan. 31 for more than 900 elementary and high school students from the Fond du Lac area, said that a Catholic education “doesn’t just educate you in various knowledge and disciplines, but gives you a sense of the presence of Jesus in your life.”
Wearing vestments given to him by Pope Francis during the 2013 World Youth Day pilgrimage in Rio de Janeiro, Archbishop Listecki told students during the celebration at Holy Family Parish he brought the vestments “to join with you who are basically the young people who embrace and love Jesus.”
Archbishop committed to Catholic education
“That’s what your Catholic education is all about,” Archbishop Listecki said.
Having Archbishop Listecki celebrate Mass at Holy Family was a tremendous occasion, said Kevin Shaw, president of St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac.
“It shows Archbishop Listecki’s commitment to Catholic education, to what we are trying to achieve,” Shaw said.
The academy is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise $21.3 million to build a new elementary and middle school adjacent to the existing high school, remodel the high school and make other improvements to the Spring’s campus.
Enrollment in the 3K-12 system is about 750. The new campus, anticipated for completion by the fall of 2016, is expected to accommodate up to 900 students, including 350 at the high school level.
“Our grade school is growing rapidly, especially at the kindergarten, first- and second-grade levels. Why? I think it’s because people are realizing how beneficial a quality Catholic education is and how good the outcomes are for those who attend Catholic schools,” Shaw said.
Parents looking to reinforce faith
Following the Mass, Archbishop Listecki told the Catholic Herald that growing enrollments in the archdiocese can be attributed “to the quality education we offer, along with a real sense of faith, which we need more and more of today.”
“Increasingly, our faith is being challenged by society, and more and more parents are looking for ways to reinforce that faith,” Archbishop Listecki said.
In the Milwaukee Archdiocese, 11 of 14 Catholic high schools reported enrollment increases along with 43 of 99 elementary schools.
Of the elementary schools reporting increases, Cepelka said, 21 do not participate in the state’s expanded school choice/voucher program, including All Saints.
Schools are ‘Catholic to the core’
Lichter, a theology teacher by trade, said a key to All Saints’ enrollment growth is continuous faith formation training for teachers.
“I spend a lot of time offering faith formation opportunities to our teaching staff so they are able to form our children in the Catholic faith,” Lichter said. “We talk about being Catholic to the core and families are now seeking us out for the Catholicity of our school.”
The school has a reputation for strong academics and effective marketing, but Lichter said word-of-mouth “is probably our primary source for new families.”
“This past year the families that were new to us were our best advocates out in the community,” she said.
Lichter said she is certain the school will maintain enrollment growth.
“We can’t keep up the current rate of growth, but we’ve projected enrollment increases over the next five years,” she said.
Strength in regional model
Lichter said the regional school concept encouraged by Archbishop Listecki plays a part in All Saints’ growth.
“The best part about the regional model is having the pastors’ presence in the school. Because all 10 pastors sit on the school board, it has brought all the pastors in Kenosha together to form a community around the school,” Lichter said. “They are very active in the school. Five teach classes and the others help celebrate Mass. Families are also coming to the school from all over the Kenosha area rather than just the neighborhood.”
Students participate in outreach trips to the 10 parishes where they celebrate Mass, “so we have a visible presence in the community,” Lichter said.
Building a sense of community beyond an individual school is seen as a major reason for a 30 percent increase in enrollment over the past four years for Burlington Catholic Central High School, according to principal Eric Henderson.
“We draw our students from a core of eight Catholic elementary schools. We’ve developed a relationship with our grade schools to bring a sense of community not just to Catholic Central, but to the larger Catholic community in our area,” Henderson said.
He said student numbers grew from 139 in 2010-2011 to 181 in 2013-2014. The school does not participate in the school choice/voucher program.
With graduation rates of 100 percent four of the last five years (96 percent in 2012-2013) the school has a reputation for high academic standards.
“We’re very proud of the success our students have seen,” Henderson said.
In 2012-2013, 37 seniors applied for and earned college scholarships totaling nearly $1 million. In the past five school years, Catholic Central students earned more than $4.3 million in scholarships.
Parents are ‘biggest marketers’
“Our biggest marketers are our parents. Word-of-mouth and positive comments about our students and programs have helped increase enrollment,” he said. “We’ve re-directed our focus to stronger academics and more rigor in the classroom, but, importantly, over the past four years we’ve also made a much bigger commitment to our Catholic faith.”
In the past, students went to Mass as a group six to eight times a year, but now go 19 times a year, Henderson said.
“We’ve started daily prayers and readings from the Bible that, as a result, have helped make our kids more successful. In today’s society, where you see more violence and adversity, there is a sense of putting more priority into God and our faith. That certainly helps us draw students.”
Regional schools assure stability
Buying into the concept of a regional school to ensure enrollment stability and growth is a no-brainer to Rick Erickson, administrator at Consolidated Parochial Elementary School (CPES), a 3K-sixth grade school of 57 students in Johnsburg, located between Plymouth and Fond du Lac in a rural area of glacial hills topped with churches known as Wisconsin’s “Holy Land.”
The school is the northernmost in the archdiocese.
“We are the only Catholic school footprint in our area,” Erickson said. “Quite frankly, I would rather have the parish schools of old, but what I see and have to recognize is that in today’s life, and where people live, regionalization is the way to go.”
Erickson expects enrollment to grow to 60 next year, along with the addition of a seventh grade class.
Imparting a strong faith formation is critical to building and maintaining enrollment, Erickson said.
“We are seeing a resurgence of people wanting two things, maybe three,” Erickson said. “Primarily, I think they like the fact we are a school that allows children to speak Christ. We are a school that is not afraid to admit there is a higher power that guides our lives. People also want the quality of education and small class size with more individual attention to students that a Catholic and private school can offer. Let’s face it. We are building the future of the Catholic Church.”
From nearly closed to growing
Cheryl Jaeger, principal at St. Peter School, Slinger, said the school has seen a 40 percent increase in students in its 3K-fifth grade program since 2011, when the school was on the verge of closing due to declining enrollment.
“In 2011-2012 we had 65 students, now we have 91,” said Jaeger, in her third year as principal.
Major keys to the growth, Jaeger said, include several remodeling projects and, most importantly, a recommitment from teachers, staff and St. Peter Parish in general “to develop and spread our Catholic identity, provide excellent academics and really believe in the kids.”
“Our Catholic faith is interwoven into all our classes. That is a beauty of our school. We don’t just teach religion in religion class. We take advantage of every teachable moment,” she said.
This year the school added fifth grade to its 3K-fourth grade structure. The school now offers fifth grade athletics, music and other opportunities in the arts and several innovative academic ventures, including a problem- solving club.
Jaeger said she has increased her visibility in the community “to educate people why it is important to have Catholic education in Slinger.”
“People have been phenomenal in showing their support for Catholic education here,” she said.