By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Enrollment continues its upward trend at Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport. This year saw a gain of 18 students in grades K-12. Last year saw a gain of 40 students.
“While I would like to see an increase of 40 students every year the trend is still positive,” said Lee Morrison, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools. “Our Catholic schools provide a safe environment, religious formation, excellent academics and teaching and prepare students well for the next step in their academic careers.”
Among the schools with the largest gains for the 2015-16 academic year was John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport. “JFK’s story is interesting,” Principal Chad Steimle said. “JFK opened in 1964 with 165 students in grades two through five. It added grade six in 1965 and first grade in the fall of 1968. Kindergarten was added in 1976, and enrollment was 190 students. Grades seven and eight were added in 1981 and 1982, respectively.
Enrollment grew quite rapidly and reached a record high of 414 in 1993. Enrollment then declined for nearly a decade and bottomed out at 260 students in 2004. There were many who thought that JFK might end up closing or need to merge with other schools in order to survive.”
But failure was not an option for the school and its parish, Our Lady of Victory, Steinle said. “Together, we more openly shared the story of JFK and how successful our students were.”
Grants were awarded to fund capital and technological improvements. Programs such as before- and after-school child care and Vacation Bible School were started or re-launched. The preschool expanded from three classes to five. Tuition assistance from the Scott County Capital Campaign’s “Embracing Our Future” and School Tuition Organization (STO) made Catholic school education affordable for middle-class families and large families.
“Once the flywheel of growth began turning, the momentum has been amazing,” Steinle continued. The parish completed a $3.4 million expansion and renovation for the church and school in 2011. An additional $500,000 in improvements is underway. Since 2004, K-8 enrollment has increased 61 percent, Steimle said. “We have had enrollment growth in 10 of the last 11 years, and achieved a new record K-8 enrollment this year, 418 students.” Waiting lists exist for sixth grade, kindergarten and the preschool and childcare programs. Today, “JFK is currently the largest K-8 Catholic school in the Diocese of Davenport.”
All Saints Catholic School in Davenport also experienced increased enrollment, for the third year in a row, with 16 new students. “The staff and parents are the school’s best ambassadors and have spread the word about All Saints in their workplace and neighborhoods,” said Principal Jeanne Von Feldt.
Families have been educated about grant opportunities so they know that Catholic education at All Saints is affordable and attainable for all children.
“All Saints is very diverse and we celebrate it,” she said. “We have a very unique situation here as we have four parishes that officially subsidize us so I am sure to have a visible presence in one of the parishes.”
One grade is full and the sixth grade has just two spaces open because the school caps each grade level at 50 students, or 25 students per classroom. “Our staff is very proud of All Saints and we continue to communicate to the public that we recognize the gifts that all of the children have culturally, economically and racially.”
Notre Dame Catholic Schools in Burlington saw an increase of 11 students in the junior/senior high and a loss of 20 in the elementary level. Principal Bill Maupin said a large fifth-grade class graduated last spring and moved into the junior/senior high. Sixth grade has 42 students, the school’s largest class. However, a smaller kindergarten class entered the elementary level.
Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf saw a decrease of 20 students. Principal Jennifer Alongi said several families moved out of state, a couple of families left because they don’t agree with moving confirmation to a higher grade level, and another family opposed combining the two sixth-grade homerooms into one seventh-grade homeroom.
“We had 22 sixth-graders last year, with 11 students in each homeroom. We decided to have one seventh-grade homeroom. So this year we have 19 students in our seventh grade instead of the 22 that we had hoped for. The loss of three students was due to either the confirmation changes at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish or the homeroom combination decision.”
However, “one family left to go to public school, but after one quarter, they have returned to Lourdes. Another family moved to Florida, but still had their house here. They didn’t like it in Florida and missed Lourdes so they are now back too.”
St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport also saw a decrease, losing 18 students. “We had a few years where the school was completely full with waiting lists at every grade level,” Principal Julie Delaney said. “Enrollment can’t continue to increase because there is no more room for additional students. We have chosen to cap our classes to a 26-student maximum. Also since we’ve had a waiting list for our upper grades for the past four years, when new families inquire and want to attend, I cannot always accommodate all of the children and therefore we miss out on the entire family. We still continue to have waiting lists for our fifth through eighth grades, but room in our lower grades. We have been graduating large classes of 54 students and bringing in smaller classes of 40 students in the lower grades, due to lower birth rates. In five years we should have a boom because we have had over 45 births in the parish so far in 2015.”
Another contributing factor is the school’s transitional kindergarten, she said. “We are the only Catholic school in Davenport and Bettendorf to have a transitional kindergarten. This affects our K-8 enrollment because our 4-year-old preschool program has only 40 spots available, and not all 40 4-year-olds progress to kindergarten. Some instead go to our transitional kindergarten. Our transitional kindergarten enrollment has grown over the past few years. That should begin to transfer to a higher kindergarten enrollment in the future.”
Morrison observed that every school, as part of its enrollment management strategy, has the challenge of determining specific impacts on student population. Those reasons can range from economic (tuition) and low birth rates to dissatisfaction with programs and local public school enrollment trends.