By Anne Marie Amacher
Enrollment at Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport is down slightly this school year compared to the year before, but still higher than figures reported for the 2007-08 school year.
Total enrollment is 5,186 students this year, 71 fewer students than last year when enrollment was 5,257 students. Compared with enrollment of 5,145 students for the 2007-08 school year, this year’s enrollment is up 41 students.
Numbers provided to The Catholic Messenger come from the Diocese of Davenport, which in turn received its figures from diocesan schools based on enrollment as of Sept. 15. That information is provided to the state, diocese and National Catholic Education Association.
Mary Wieser, director of faith formation and superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, said that given the current economy Catholic schools are holding their own.
She credited the School Tuition Organization (STO) with helping to retain and draw families to Catholic schools. “STOs make Catholic schools affordable and accessible for many.”
But, with the state of Iowa making budget cuts because of income shortfalls, she is keeping an eye on the STO program. Any changes could impact enrollment. “If (the state) cuts the tax credit, I’d hate to think of what would happen next year.”
Despite that uncertainty, some diocesan schools this year report encouraging enrollment figures.
John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport saw an increase of 25 students — from 324 to 349 — in kindergarten through eighth grade. JFK’s Guardian Angel preschool saw an increase of 10 students — from 92 to 102 students.
Chad Steimle, principal at JFK, said the school has seen a 34 percent increase in K-8 enrollment since 2004 from 260 students to 349 students, and a 92 percent increase in the preschool enrollment since 2006 from 54 students to 102 students.
“Additional funding has played a large role in growing and retaining the enrollment at JFK. Financial assistance for K-8 students at JFK, for example, has more than tripled, and participating in the Statewide Voluntary Pre-School Program for 4-year-olds has provided additional funding.
“Due to the STO, Embracing Our Future (Scott County Catholic schools assistance) and state preschool funding, tuition assistance now reaches far beyond those who are living at or near the government’s definition of poverty.”
Steimle said many middle-class families have been aided by tuition assistance, and Catholic school education has become more affordable for a wider range of people. He believes that through the commitment of community, staff, parents and students, a foundational belief exists that failure is not an option.
“Our entire community is alive with the fundamental understanding that the mission of Catholic school education is connecting kids with Christ. Called to fulfill that mission, (we believe) success is the only option.”
Class sizes continue to grow at JFK. The eighth-grade class of 2009 graduated 28 students and the incoming kindergarten class has 48 students.
Seton Catholic School in Ottumwa saw an increase of 10 students this year — from 74 to 84 students.
Principal Terri Schofield said the STO “is a huge blessing.” She credits Steve Roling, executive director of the School Tuition Organization of Southeast Iowa, for his guidance and leadership on that committee.
She also cited “excellent support” from Ottumwa’s two parishes — St. Patrick and St. Mary of the Visitation. Seton has “one of the strongest, faith-based preschools in town,” she said. That is why many families choose to continue their child’s education at Seton after being a part of the prekindergarten program.
“Lastly God has been mighty faithful to Seton and provided for us beyond our prayerful desires,” she said.
Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City saw declines in enrollment at all levels from preschool through high school. The junior/senior high enrollment of 411 students was down 12 from the previous year. Elementary school enrollment was 440 students, down 26 from the previous year, and the preschool enrollment of 81 students was down 11 from last year.
Carol Trueg, president of Regina, said a number of factors caused enrollment to drop.
Throughout the 2008-09 school year, several families moved out of the Iowa City area and many of those families had multiple students enrolled. A number of Korean foreign exchange students who could no longer get money out of the country pulled out of school as well. Comparing enrollment at the end of last year with the beginning of this year school, the figures are pretty consistent, Trueg noted.
“The economy certainly impacted our kindergarten class size, as we had 65 students initially enrolled, but parents indicated that they were afraid to start their child at Regina if they weren’t sure that they could continue,” she said. Other parents have voiced concerns that their jobs may be at risk.
“Some of those who left worked at the University of Iowa, but there weren’t any trends towards this being the major reason for our drop.”
Iowa City did not add the free preschool this year. So preschool numbers are pretty steady, especially compared to the end of the 2008-09 school year.
Looking to the future and increasing enrollment, Trueg said, “I have created a recruitment plan that I am in the process of implementing. Both the junior-senior high and the elementary are doing a nice job of getting information to parents as they request it. We are seeing the downward trend changing, as we have two new students in the elementary and another three who will enroll within the next month. Two students will begin in the next couple of weeks in the high school.”
Celeste Vincent, principal at Regina Elementary, agreed with Trueg that the ending number in June 2009 was comparable to the start of this year in August 2009.
Two new students transferred into Regina from the public school system after the school year began this year. Two more students started Regina last month as the family moved from Davenport to Iowa City. Another two transfer students from the Iowa City area public schools are expected to start at Regina as well.
Staff at the school has been giving a number of tours each week to prospective families. “Some are not even for kindergarten next year,” but for the future. “They are inquisitive and that’s a good sign.”
Enrollment numbers for Catholic schools in Davenport Diocese http://www.catholicmessenger.org/content/current/displayads/enrollment.pdf