Diocesan schools see first drop in overall enrollment in five years

Anne Marie Amacher
Richie Goeff, right, and Danny Scordato, along with other sophomores at Assumption High School in Davenport, work on an English assignment.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Overall enrollment in the Diocese of Davenport’s Catholic schools dropped for the first time since the 2013-14 school year, but Superintendent Lee Morrison says declines happen occasionally and he is hopeful for a quick turnaround.

Grades K-12 experienced a decrease of 127 students. At the elementary level, enrollment dropped by 135 students while secondary schools saw an increase of eight students. “We would prefer to see numbers grow every year,” Morrison said. “But we expect to see some decrease occur.”

He said each school examines why enrollment was down. Some schools conduct a follow-up survey; some may do exit interviews. “The majority of our decreases are families moving out of the community for job-related factors,” Morrison said. Few students who leave the Catholic schools are transferring to public schools, according to survey results.

One school saw more students come than go. In fact, Assumption High School in Davenport reported the largest increase, with 16 new students. Principal Bridget Murphy said, “We are very encouraged by the increased enrollment this year. Our commitment to Catholic identity is something that we prioritize and openly communicate with potential families. Though we are always working to grow and improve, our current students and recent graduates are better off for the seeds of faith that are nurtured during these high school years. We do our best to balance care, community, structure, and support within the school environment. Success in all areas, including enrollment, is an offshoot of beginning with and openly embracing our center in faith.”

Even schools that reported losses said the numbers need to be put into perspective. Regina Elementary in Iowa City experienced the largest decrease, 40 students. Principal Celeste Vincent pointed out that when comparing enrollment from the 2016-17 school year to the 2018-19 school year, the difference is 10 fewer students. Enrollment for the 2017-18 school year spiked higher than normal. “One year does not make a trend,” she said.

Last year, Regina’s sixth-grade class was larger than usual. Those students moved to the secondary level this year. “We had 11 families move out of state,” Vincent said. Iowa City is a very mobile community with a major university. Some families move in an out to work on academic degrees; changes in faculty at the university also impact enrollment.

St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport reported an overall loss of 14 students. Principal Julie Delaney said the graduating eighth-grade class was larger than the incoming kindergarten class. Furthermore, 13 students moved out of the area and five left for public schools. But since the beginning of the year, St. Paul has gained 16 new students as transfers and two additional students arrived after the official count date.

Delaney sees the possibility of larger classes in the future because of an increase in the number of births and baptisms in the parish. “We went through a phase of lower birth rates beginning in 2008. In 2015 we experienced some increases due to births. We are now seeing those students beginning to enter the preschool program, creating a larger 3-year-old program this year. The future looks bright.”

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