While many Catholic schools have closed, more than 150 schools opened during the past 10 years. Hardly a diocese in the country exists that does not have plans on the drawing boards for new schools and additions to others. Catholic parents in suburban parishes are now the prime movers behind the opening of new schools. From California to Virginia, from Florida to Indiana, examples exist of new schools opening with capacity enrollments and waiting lists.
The best way to understand what is happening in Catholic schools is to take a good look at the following four traits:
1) Adherence to Catholic identity
If your image of Catholic schools comes from the movie image of Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley in the Bells of St. Mary’s, you will be very surprised at them today. Formerly, most teachers were priests or members of religious communities of sisters and brothers. Today, over 95 percent of the Catholic educators are single or married women and men.
2) Modern classroom arrangements
A second change you will notice as you visit today’s Catholic schools is the instructional program. Formerly, the typical classroom had student desks lined up in neat rows. Little else was in the classroom except a blackboard. Today, the desks are usually grouped in clusters. Learning is student centered and the instruction differentiated to meet the learning needs of all students.
3) New administrative setup
Years ago, pastors directed the schools and all aspects of the parish. Principals worked under their direction. Today, pastors oversee a variety of parish ministries. While they have ultimate responsibility, they are not the authority in every ministry. The relationship among pastors, principals and heads of other parish ministries is a peer relationship. Each person has expertise in the particular ministry but each works as part of a team.
Pastors and principals have also come to rely on the talents of competent parishioners. Governing Boards develop the budget, formulate policy and oversee the business functions of running a Catholic school.
4) Changes in funding
Fifty years ago, Catholic schools did not charge tuition or, if they did, it was very modest. The expenses of the schools were minimal largely because the men and women religious worked for a modest stipend. Today, tuition covers almost 70 percent of the Catholic elementary school per-pupil cost. The parish Sundaycollection contributes about 20 percent, and various fund-raising activities generate 10 percent.
If you are a parent, one of the most important decisions in your life and in the lives of your children is that of choosing the education that will most benefit them. Consider the following reasons a Catholic school is right for your children:
1. Have a proven record of academic excellence;
2. Recognize you as the primary educator of your child(ren) and partner with you for the good of your children;
3. Continue the religious formation of your children begun in your home;
4. Offer a rigorous curriculum
5. Provide a challenging environment;
6. Maintain a secure environment;
7. Deal with the issues of today and show students the application of Christian principles to them;
8. Have educators who believe that all children can succeed;
9. Provide a Christian value-centered education; and most importantly
10. Prepare students for not just college, but heaven too!
If you are not a parent but a Catholic parishioner, I ask you to examine with me the following reasons for helping Catholic schools:
1. At Baptism we joined the family of God and were charged to become evangelizers. We do this chiefly by acting in a Christ like manner. Because we are charged to be evangelizers, we need to assist those who do this on a full-time basis. We need to support our Catholic schools.
2. Catholic schools are good for America. Large numbers of Catholic schools provide a top-quality education to very poor children thereby treating the disease of poverty and social injustice as opposed to just the symptoms.
Catholic schools have done more for evangelization than any other American Church institution. For more than 200 years, they have been the most effective means of helping youth grow in their faith. Catholic schools have been a great gift to the nation. They have educated millions and millions of students who became productive citizens intensely loyal to their country.