Diocesan schools enroll 14,144 students
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - After three years of impressive gains, enrollment remained virtually the same this year among Catholic schools.
Joe Cory/Key photo
St. Elizabeth third grade teacher Ann Nigro instructs the entire third grade on a group project. The third grade here is usually split into three classes.
According to enrollment data complied by the Diocesan School Office, there are 14,144 students enrolled this in Diocesan, parochial and private Catholic high schools, elementary schools and early childhood learning centers throughout the Diocese. That is up slightly from the 14,112 students who were enrolled last year.
Among the key trends:
- Despite the loss of Bishop Hogan High School from the Catholic school system, enrollment at Catholic high schools increased overall by 21 students. The loss of Bishop Hogan's 1997-98 enrollment of 170 students from the Catholic school system was more than made up by a 191-student surge this fall among the remaining seven Catholic high schools.
"The high school increase is exciting," said Benedictine Sister Anne Shepard, superintendent of Diocesan schools. "It's clear that parents and students are continuing to choose our high schools."
- Early childhood learning centers, which function separately from elementary schools, also showed a healthy enrollment gain. This year, 1,274 children are enrolled in Catholic early childhood nursery schools, pre-schools and pre-kindergartens, compared to 1,207 last year.
- Enrollment dipped, however, among the elementary schools, although the losses did not occur across the board. This year, there are 9,654 children enrolled in Catholic elementary schools, compared to 9,710 last year. Although the loss was slight, it marked the first overall enrollment decrease at the elementary level in at least five years.
Elementary schools in three regions reported overall enrollment declines.
Among the seven urban core Kansas City schools served by the Central City School Fund, combined enrollment dropped by nine percent, from 1,501 children to 1,365. The schools are Holy Cross, St. Stephen, St. Francis Xavier, Our Lady of the Angels, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Monica, all in Kansas City; and St. Ann in Independence, which is within the boundaries of the Kansas City Public School District.
The central city Catholic school drop corresponds to a sharp enrollment drop recorded in the Kansas City Public School District this year, Sister Shepard noted.
"One factor is we have people leaving the urban core," she said, noting the continued turmoil within the public school district. "I am very concerned about what is happening in Kansas City. Their high schools lost 1,000 students this year, and our high schools accepted 10 (transfers from Kansas City public high schools). Where are the other 990? Every segment of this community needs to be concerned about that, and not just the public school system."
But the biggest factor, she said, is financial. Reports from principals of the seven central city Catholic schools indicated that many families withdrew from Catholic schools this year because of difficulty in tuition costs, despite assistance from the Central City School Fund.
"Even with scholarship grants, the pinch is really on the poor and middle class to pay even a reduced tuition," she said. "This reinforces the need to get more scholarship money for those students."
In addition, many of the central city Catholic schools have recently beefed up tuition collection efforts, working with parents who fall behind, but also denying re-enrollment to those who fail to meet their obligations, Sister Shepard said.
"The schools are getting more serious about tuition collection," Sister Shepard said. "Whenever you have a change in practice like that, you will lose people."
The only Catholic school within the Kansas City urban core to report an enrollment gain was the private Notre Dame de Sion School, which jumped from 298 students to 338 this year.
Schools outside the Kansas City and St. Joseph metropolitan area also reported a combined enrollment loss, as did schools in southeastern and eastern Jackson County.
The five rural area schools reported a combined enrollment this year of 575 students compared to 596 last year. Two of the five, however, gained enrollment. They were St. Gregory Barbarigo School in Maryville, which grew from 222 students to 235; and St. Mary School in Montrose, which grew from 48 students to 54.
Among the seven eastern and southeastern Jackson County schools, only St. John LaLande School in Blue Springs showed an increase. The Blue Springs school grew by 18 students to an enrollment of 363.
Elsewhere, the elementary enrollment picture was brighter. In fact, said Sister Shepard, several schools which had posted healthy enrollment gains in the past are now at capacity, which has held down overall enrollment figures.
For example, enrollment tapered among the five schools in Kansas City's north of the river suburbs after four years of surging growth. But the only Northland school with any room left, St. Gabriel, reported a 13 percent enrollment gain, while enrollments at other schools remained stable.
In southwestern Kansas City, enrollment continue to surge. Overall, the seven schools added 101 students this year.
An expansion project completed last year at St. Thomas More School, the largest elementary school in the Diocese, helped boost enrollment by 31 students to 625. St. Peter School grew by 25 students to 582, as did St. Elizabeth Schools which reported an enrollment of 482. Visitation School grew by 19 students to 441, and Christ the King School added one student for an enrollment of 345.
St. Joseph elementary schools also showed an overall gain of 32 students. Cathedral, St. James and St. Patrick schools reported a combined gain of 39 students, while St. Francis Xavier School, the city's largest Catholic school, dropped slightly from 427 to 420 students.
Sister Shepard said the growth at the high school level was impressive, especially considering that there is one less high school this year in the Catholic system.
Last February, Diocesan officials agreed to a plan submitted by the Bishop Hogan High School board to allow the school to become a private, non-denominational Christian academy this school year, and to offer the school financial support during its transition.
Six of the seven remaining Catholic high schools recorded enrollment gains this year, and the lone exception - St. Mary/Bundschu Memorial High School in Independence - remained stable with a loss of only five students.
Leading the way was St. Pius X High School in Kansas City, north, which posted a 15 percent increase from 303 students to 349. That also represents a 98-student gain in enrollment over the last four years.
Sister Shepard said that a recent capital improvements campaign to update the school has created excitement, as well as a joint regional marketing plan that has benefitted all Northland Catholic schools.
"At St. Pius, success begets success," she said.
Also surging was Archbishop O'Hara High School in southeastern Kansas City, which grew by 45 students to 598.
"At both St. Pius and O'Hara, you are looking at 10-year highs in enrollment," Sister Shepard said.
Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph reported an enrollment increase for the 11th straight year, growing by 10 students to an enrollment of 282.
"Bishop LeBlond is clearly holding its own," Sister Shepard said. "They just keep growing."
Gains were also recorded at each of the three private Catholic high schools.
The all-female Notre Dame de Sion High School, which had an enrollment of 221 just three years ago, was up by 37 students this year, boosting enrollment to 362.
The all-male Rockhurst High School, which completed a $15 million construction project this year, grew by 52 students to an enrollment of 929. The all-female St. Teresa's Academy, which has operated at or near capacity for years, grew by six students to an enrollment of 473.
Sister Shepard said cooperative marketing efforts are paying off for all the high schools.
She noted that the marketing approach will soon cross the state line, with high schools within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas joining the effort to sell Catholic secondary education throughout the metropolitan area.
"There will still be healthy competition among the schools," she said. "But it is my hope that the cooperation will supersede the competition."