School enrollment in diocese up as 11,102 ‘choose everything’
Photo Caption: Members of the fourth grade class at Holy Cross School in Champaign dressed as saints for an-school Mass on Oct. 27 in anticipation of the church’s celebration of All Saints.
By: By Tom Dermody
Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria are celebrating the first overall enrollment increase in a decade.
The announcement came Oct. 28 during a schools-related presentation to diocesan priests gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria for their annual Assembly Days. (See related stories, page 5.) Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of schools, and Bill Engelbrecht, diocesan director of advancement, reported on the success of recent strategic planning and marketing initiatives.
“I have some good news,” said Engelbrecht, drawing applause from the priests as he revealed that the diocese’s total enrollment rose from 11,079 last year to 11,102 for the 2015-16 school year. The tally — showing .2 percent increases in both elementary and high school enrollment — halted a steady erosion since the last overall increase in 2005-06.
“It’s not up much, but it’s up,” said Engelbrecht, whose presentation on “A Great Story Never Told” was chiefly devoted to showing the academic and spiritual benefits of Catholic education over public school counterparts.
Much of the enrollment gain came from pre-kindergarten — up 143 children from a year ago — which bodes well for the future, said Engelbrecht.
Both Engelbrecht and Dr. Weiss credited the strategic planning initiative and a “Choose Everything” marketing campaign begun at the direction of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, to better promote the value of Catholic education and the church’s mission in its schools.
“Why are we doing all of this?” asked Dr. Weiss, who presented the priests with a detailed, 16-page report summarizing the three-year schools planning initiative. “Why are we doing enrollment management, and trying to put so much emphasis on getting our children into the schools?
“Because we want to get our children into heaven,” said Dr. Weiss. “That’s the bottom line.”
In a letter introducing the schools report, Bishop Jenky expressed similar thoughts.
After detailing Catholic school successes in academics, Bishop Jenky wrote that “most important of all, we know that our graduates actively practice their Catholic faith at a much higher rate than those who attend a public school. Isn’t that the real reason to choose a Catholic school in the first place?”
This year, more families are making that choice in the Diocese of Peoria.
Twenty-one schools showed enrollment gains, including six with an increase beyond 10 percent. They are:
Carroll Catholic School in Lincoln, up a whopping 31.6 percent (from 117 to 154 students); St. Thomas, Philo, 17.7 percent; Holy Cross, Mendota, 17.2 percent; Sts. Peter and Paul, Nauvoo, 12 percent; St. Jude, Peoria, 11.7 percent; and St. Louis, Princeton, 10.3 percent.
For high schools, Marquette Academy in Ottawa led the way with an 8.5 percent increase. Overall, 2,458 students are enrolled in Catholic secondary schools of the diocese, up five from a year ago.
“A STORY WE NEED TO TELL”
Engelbrecht’s presentation used a news item from the day to drive home a point. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that math and reading scores for fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the United States have either dropped or are stagnant. However, scores were up for that testing period in Catholic schools of the Diocese of Peoria.
“The job that we’re doing academically is pretty remarkable,” said Engelbrecht. Eighth-graders in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria are a full year ahead in math and reading, and are 2.5 years ahead in written expression, he said.
But that’s only part of the story. The reasons parents choose a Catholic school, he said, are topped by the help they receive in instilling strong moral values in their children, followed by academic excellence and individual attention received.
“We’ve got a story we need to tell,” said Engelbrecht. “It’s a strong, strong story. It can be the difference whether people wind up in church, have happy marriages, do well in life. Nobody’s going to tell the story for us.”
Dr. Weiss thanked the diocese’s priests for their role in the success of Catholic schools.
“We could not do this without you,” said Dr. Weiss. “Do you understand that? Well, I do. I heard it as a classroom teacher, as a counselor, as a principal, and as a superintendent. We could not do this without you.”