Illinois Valley region among school enrollment bright spots

By: By Jennifer Willems

While total enrollment in Catholic schools around the Diocese of Peoria has declined by 1.3 percent from last year — from 11,221 to 11,079 — nearly half the schools are reporting increases.

“The bright spot for the diocese has been Region 3,” said Jerry Sanderson, associate superintendent of schools. “Region 3 is the Illinois Valley area — Ottawa, LaSalle, Streator and Pontiac. . . . It’s the only geographic region of our diocese that has shown growth as a region for three consecutive years.”

He noted that Peru Catholic School has grown by 50 students in that time — an increase of 32 percent. Trinity Catholic Academy in LaSalle has added 14 in the past two years, and St. Mary School in Pontiac has welcomed 22 students this year, for a 14 percent increase.

Of the 19 elementary schools that showed increases, Sanderson also singled out:

— St. Philomena School, Peoria, which has had a net gain of 53 students over the past four years;
— St. Mark School, Peoria, which has grown by 18 students over the last three years;
— St. Patrick School, Washington, which is up 27 students over the last three years;
— St. Thomas School, Philo, which has grown by 34 students in two years for a 35 percent increase; and
— Sts. Peter and Paul School in Nauvoo, which added 17 students over two years.

Sanderson added that the last five years have been good to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline, which has increased enrollment by 32 students (21 percent), and Immaculate Conception School in Monmouth, which has grown by 31 students (22 percent).

“We had good news for several high schools, too,” Sanderson told The Catholic Post. “The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, our new Blue Ribbon School, has increased enrollment by 16 students this year. The community is very excited about the direction that school is going, especially with its strong academic program.”

Also generating “a lot of enthusiasm and excitement” in its community is St. Bede Academy in Peru. Sanderson said St. Bede’s “bold plans for the future” and what they want to do with the campus, as well as their boarding program have helped enrollment grow by 30 students over two years.

Across the diocese, there was a loss of 20 students at the high school level — from 2,473 in 2013-14 to 2,453 in 2014-15. Enrollment in kindergarten through eighth grade was 7,411 a year ago and now stands at 7,263.
Sanderson said there’s another bright spot, however, when it comes to pre-kindergarten enrollment. Last year there were 1,337 children in these classes and this year there are 1,363. Over the last 10 years the enrollment in that age group has increased by 16.2 percent.

“That’s where we want to see the growth, in the youngest children, because that bodes well for our future,” he said.

Looking at enrollment trends in public schools as well as Catholic schools in central Illinois showed another reason to be hopeful, according to Sanderson.

Between 2003 and 2013, public school enrollment declined by 3 percent. During that same period, Catholic school enrollment declined by almost 22 percent, he said.

“The good news is that the students are still out there. It’s not a case of rapid population decline in the counties of our diocese,” he explained.

With the research the Office of Catholic Schools has done as part of the “Faith in Our Future” initiative and its focus on enrollment management, student recruitment, marketing, and retention, “we feel we have a great opportunity to get those students back into our schools,” Sanderson said.

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