By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Overall enrollment is up in the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic schools for the 2014-15 academic year and a number of factors are being credited for the growth. Total enrollment for preschool, elementary and secondary schools grew by 30 students, according to statistics submitted to the diocese and forwarded to the National Catholic Education Association. The largest gains were at the elementary level.
“Sustaining Catholic education in the Diocese of Davenport in all of its present locations and growing the enrollments of those schools is of vital importance to the diocesan schools office and Diocese of Davenport,” said Lee Morrison, superintendent of Catholic schools. (See chart below)
Among schools growing enrollment is All Saints Catholic School in Davenport, which saw an increase of 44 students to 389 compared with fall 2013 enrollment of 345 students. “We are truly blessed,” said Principal Jeanne Von Feldt. She credits a solid education offered by the school, support from pastors, Embracing Our Future (financial aid), the school board, teachers and families.
“Parents love our high academics, safe and happy environment, the diversity and the acceptance of one another,” she said. Coupled with a solid retention rate, parents — past and present — help drive up enrollment for All Saints. “They are our biggest recruiters and spread the word,” Von Feldt said. Since August, she has given 10 tours of the school; several families have signed up for the next academic year.
Parent Trish Rolfstad, a former school board president for All Saints, gives credit to the principal. “There is great leadership with Jeanne. She spends a tremendous amount of time meeting with potential families, making connections with families and working to meet individuals’ needs.” Rolfstad believes All Saints has become stronger since the merger of several smaller Catholic schools. Juana Huizar, a parent and All Saints School Board member, said the school provides a good education and God is a part of daily life there. “I really like the leadership and family atmosphere,” she said. “We feel so welcome and that is important — especially since we are a minority.”
Ken Kantner is a parent of two All Saints’ students who were adopted from Ethiopia. His oldest was enrolled in the public school system but was frustrated by classroom distractions, among other things. Kantner and his wife decided to look at other school alternatives. They learned about All Saints from a family at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. “They recommended All Saints and told us about the diversity there.” After meeting with Von Feldt, “We were instantly hooked,” he said. The couple brought their two children to tour the school. “It was a very positive environment, friendly, and we love the teachers,” he said. Kantner is not Catholic, but said his wife was raised Catholic. The couple agreed that they liked the All Saints’ structure.
All Saints was not the only school to see an upturn in enrollment. John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport grew by 26 students. Principal Chad Steimle said enrollment rebounded from last year and a number of students transferred in, resulting in record enrollment at JFK. Enrollment for 2014 is 396 students compared with 370 students last year. “A year ago, the kindergarten class was smaller in relation to the lower birth rate for that cohort. We had seen the lower ‘pool,’ so to speak make its way through 3- year-old preschool, 4-year-old preschool and kindergarten. The following group, the current kindergarten, was in a cohort with higher birth rates again. We had quite a few students transfer to JFK either due to moves into the area or transfers from the public schools. There were very few families who left JFK.”
Assumption High School in Davenport reported a drop of 25 students from fall 2013 to fall 2014 with 481 to 456. “We graduated 116 and the freshmen class is 102, accounting for a loss of 14 students,” said President Andy Craig. Other students were lost through transfers.
Enrollment declined at St. James Catholic School in Washington by 14 students because fifth-grade was not offered this year. Enrollment currently is 58 compared to 72 last year. “It is for a one-year period only. We intend to reopen fifth grade in the 2015-16 school year,” said Superintendent Morrison. Likewise, Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton saw a decline in enrollment. The high school graduated a larger class this past spring and a smaller incoming class of freshmen. Morrison noted Prince of Peace has two sections of kindergarten this year, “which bodes well for the future.”
The high school went from 82 down to 67 and the elementary went up from 135 to 143.
The superintendent said he is very pleased with this year’s growth in enrollment. “I think the word is spreading about our Catholic schools. We are working diligently to help every child reach their God-given potential through a school experience that embraces the Gospel values and is committed to faith formation, strong academics and service to the whole community. It is our vision that all parents who share our values will find our school environments contagious and want that same experience for their children.”
He noted that “Maintaining status quo is not an option that will get us to the desired result over the next decade. That is why we are undergoing strategic planning with pastors, parish leaders, the Catholic schools office and school parents to renew our vision for Catholic education in the Diocese of Davenport. We must plan for a robust future for Catholic education incorporating new strategies to address changes in demographics, new demands on schools and the challenges facing our Catholic schools. Letting changes occur by the lack of a plan is neither strategic nor responsible.”