Catholic school enrollment in diocese this year is 11,473

By: By Jennifer Willems

Continued unemployment is one of the key factors cited in the 5 percent dip in enrollment in Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria for the 2011-12 school year.

“As much as the economy seemingly has turned around, the unemployment rate has not decreased,” said Brother William Dygert, CSC, superintendent of Catholic schools. “In the short run people hold on. In the long run they often cannot.”

Figures released by the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools earlier this month show that total enrollment stands at 11,473 — 619 fewer students than the previous academic year. The majority of that decline is in the elementary schools, which had 9,452 students last year and 8,932 students when classes started this fall.

The elementary school total includes 1,251 children in pre-kindergarten programs, down 48 from 2010-11.

On the secondary level, there are 2,541 students enrolled in Catholic schools in central Illinois, a drop of 99 students from last year.

The diocesan school system includes five high schools and 37 elementary schools, as well as Schlarman Academy in Danville and Marquette Academy in Ottawa, which enroll students in pre-kindergarten through high school.

While Catholic school viability generally has been measured in terms of enrollment in the past, that is not necessarily the case now, according to Brother William.

“I think the challenge when you deal with enrollment is to try to sustain Catholic education everywhere it needs to be,” he told The Catholic Post. “What you really have to do is live within your means. You have to make sure that every school is right-sized and that it’s using a delivery system that the numbers allow the school to use.

“Fortunately there are lots of ways to keep viable, quality Catholic education without having big numbers,” he said.

Driving that change in delivery is technology, Brother William said.
“You have to look at the delivery systems and be more creative. The way education is going not only allows for that but promotes that,” he explained. “I tell people the train has already left the station. We want to make sure we’re not in the caboose.”

Some of that change may include things like “flipping the classroom” in which work traditionally done in class is sent home and class time is used for application of that home study, for example. Brother William said this is already very true in the sciences.

Technology is not the end, however.

Education is going to be very different, he said, but it will never be done without a community of learners “because you learn from being with other people as much as you learn from who’s in front of you.”

“Learning is very Catholic, because community is a constitutive part of being Catholic and learning in community is really a constitutive part of education,” Brother William said. “Otherwise we’d all stay home and turn on our computers.”

That community will always include teachers as well as peers, he added.

“Technology changes the game plan and makes a lot of other things possible, but those two elements will always be part of quality education,” he said.

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