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Latino Enrollment Initiatives Gain Momentum as ND Conferences Convene Catholic School Leaders

Written by Steve McClure on Friday, 31 July 2015.

The University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) once again welcomed hundreds of visitors to campus this summer for a unique series of conferences and workshops, all dedicated to advancing ACE’s mission to sustain, strengthen, and transform Catholic schools. The Catholic School Advantage Campaign (CSA), ACE’s initiative to catalyze increased Latino enrollment in Catholic schools, engaged diverse stakeholders in cutting-edge discussions advancing the goal. 

Since the CSA’s inception, it has become increasingly evident that there is no factor more critical to the vibrancy of a K-12 Catholic school than the talent and disposition of its leadership. The willingness of well-qualified school administrators to assist in both recruiting Latino families and forming welcoming, culturally sensitive schools has been a major driver to extend the Catholic school advantage to more Latino families. Likewise, pastors who identify Latino enrollment as a parish priority and embrace the challenges associated with operating a Catholic school today play an integral role in the campaign. These two keys to success prompted ACE to develop the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) and the School Pastors’ Institute (SPI). This summer marked the fourth and fifth annual LEI and SPI gatherings, respectively. Both institutes have seen attendance grow every year.

img 1526The Latino Enrollment Institute gives school principals, administrators, and teachers marketing strategies and school culture interventions to help Catholic schools attract and serve Latino families in the local community. The four-day program, which took place on Notre Dame’s campus June 21-24, included lectures and presentations from school leaders who have developed innovative Latino outreach programs. This year, the LEI welcomed over 100 participants, representing 34 schools and 26 (arch)dioceses. The principal from each school attended, along with one or two key staff or faculty members. Each school will continue to work with a mentor principal from the LEI Design Team, or corps of experts, throughout the upcoming academic year. The principals will also reconvene for a mid-year gathering, which serves as a great opportunity to evaluate progress, share successes and best practices, and discuss challenges and opportunities that arise during the first half of the school year.

The School Pastors’ Institute is a leadership formation symposium designed to help school pastors develop skills in strengthening the Catholic identity, financial management, academic quality, and recruitment and marketing strategies for attracting and better serving Latino families. Developed in 2011 at the explicit request of (arch)bishops and pastors from across the country, the SPI has grown to serve pastors from 99 different (arch)dioceses in the United States. As in past years, attendees returned to their parishes with fresh ideas and renewed vigor to embrace their parish Catholic schools as a blessing, not a burden. Pastors have a unique authority to articulate the urgency of extending the Catholic school advantage to Latino families, so it is all the more important that they understand the integral role they play. Many pastors who attended say they have progressed in inviting Latino families and boosting their visibility in the school. mg 9420

This summer's event, held July 7-10, welcomed over 120 pastors representing 55 (arch)dioceses. A team of ten presenters, including keynote speaker Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport, spoke on a wide array of topics pertinent to school pastors today. This year, the conference also included breakout sessions for more focused discussion on some of the unique situations in which a pastor today might find himself.

In addition to the LEI and the SPI, the Catholic School Advantage Campaign hosted a new conference this summer called Vámonos. This conference grew out of the recognition that some of the biggest enrollment gains occur when a school leader delegates the task of identifying, recruiting, and welcoming new Latino families to an individual or a team. Whether this be at the parish-school level, through a diocesan-wide initiative, or in a separate organization collaborating with other entities, a strategic plan for Latino outreach, along with people dedicated to making connections, is the crucial combination.

With this in mind, the four-day Vámonos program, convened recruiters, marketing and enrollment coordinators, field consultants, and even principals and school administrators on campus, June 14-17. More than 80 people from 38 (arch)dioceses addressed inter-cultural competency, understanding differences among the various Latino cultures and generations, the madrinas marketing model and school finances. The goal was to provide a forum for sharing best practices, so that the individuals who are out in the field, promoting Catholic schools within the Latino community every day, could learn from one another.img 0173

There is no better sign of the momentum that the Catholic School Advantage Campaign is gaining than the growing interest we have seen in the summer conferences. As the Latino population continues to grow throughout the country, an increasing number of schools and (arch)dioceses are seeking strategies to reach out and serve Latino children and families better. Amid all of the research, analysis, and strategic planning that will continue to guide this evolving campaign, it is ultimately the work of leaders like those who attended the campus gatherings that will carry the mission forward.

This summer also reminded everyone how much work we have yet to do. May God continue to bless this work and the efforts of participants in all aspects of this campaign.

Three Simple Words Bring About Extraordinary Growth at Phoenix Catholic School

Written by Steve McClure on Friday, 31 July 2015.

“Available, affordable, and accessible.” There isn’t a staff or faculty member at St. Vincent de Paul School in Phoenix, Arizona, who hasn’t practiced saying this phrase. As principal, Sr. Julie Kubasak, D.C., made sure that this message was consistently communicated by each and every member of her team, so that all families who desired a Catholic education for their children knew that St. Vincent de Paul School could provide that opportunity.

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Sr. Julie, who served as the school’s principal for eight years, from 2007 to 2015, is a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and has over 25 years of experience in education. She has also served as a mentor principal for ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) since the program’s inception in 2012.

When Sr. Julie first began at St. Vincent de Paul, she received what she refers to as a “wake-up call.” Seeing hundreds of unfamiliar children’s faces in the pews at the parish’s Sunday Spanish Mass—a Mass that she quickly learned requires an early arrival in order to get in the door, let alone get a seat—prompted her to ask families if they had ever thought about sending their children to St. Vincent de Paul School.

Being in a predominantly low-income, Hispanic neighborhood, perception of the school was one of the biggest obstacles Sr. Julie and her team had to overcome. She quickly discovered that many families had never even considered the school an option because they assumed that it was not affordable. In fact, some of the parish families weren’t even aware of the school’s existence, even though the church is surrounded by the school. As Sr. Julie and her staff worked to dispel many of the misconceptions and misinformation about the affordability of a Catholic education, more families started coming.

“We realized that we had to get the message out—not only about our school, but about our mission to make Catholic education available, affordable, and accessible,” says Sr. Julie. These three words truly became the mantra of the school’s staff, and everyone communicated this same message to prospective families, whether it was the secretary, a teacher, or the school custodian. “That’s something we’ve been committed to all along, but people didn’t know it. It’s a charism of who we are as Daughters of Charity. It’s a charism of the mission of Catholic education, to reach out and make it possible,” she says.

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Promoting the school at Sunday Mass became part of Sr. Julie's regular routine, but she notes that new families really started coming into the school when parents began spreading the word. “It became even more compelling when of our parents spoke at the Masses. Typical testimonials might begin, ‘It’s true. I never thought my kids could go here, but I have three students at the school and I love it and here’s why.”

Today, St. Vincent de Paul has reached a point where the majority of the school's marketing is simply word-of-mouth. The school is almost entirely Latino, so the relationships that Sr. Julie and her staff have built with the families have a tremendous impact—with the early adopters going out and inviting their friends and their families to consider the school.

Since 2008, St. Vincent de Paul has experienced enrollment gains of more than ten percent each year. When Sr. Julie first began as principal, enrollment was just under 300 students. Today, enrollment has more than doubled, and four additional classrooms have been added to accommodate the school’s growing enrollment.

“The whole process has never been solely about bringing up our numbers,” says Sr. Julie. “It’s about being true to our mission and being true to the mission of Catholic education. As we did what we needed to do to be welcoming and inviting, it just happened.” Now, with 658 students already registered for the upcoming school year, St. Vincent de Paul School has again met and exceeded their enrollment goals for the seventh consecutive year.

svdp school students with our lady

One major change in store for this year, however, is that Sr. Julie will no longer lead the school as its principal. She recently began service as a provincial administrator for her community but will remain very involved with the school. Sr. Julie’s role on her province’s Leadership Team will now allow her to have an even broader impact as she works with ten schools co-sponsored by the Daughters of Charity throughout California and Arizona. She will also continue to serve as a mentor principal for the Latino Enrollment Institute, helping other schools adopt similar practices to better reach out to and serve Latino children.

The school’s dramatic enrollment gains have prompted a slightly modified administrative structure, now being led by a director, who will work hand in hand with the principal. Sr. Cabrini Thomas, D.C., the school’s new director, has decades of experience serving in Catholic schools as both a teacher and an administrator. She will work closely with the new principal, Mr. Enrique Diaz, who served as the school’s assistant principal for seven years, and thus knows the momentum of the school. “I have no doubts that St. Vincent de Paul is in great hands!”, says Sr. Julie.

Transformational school leaders are far more than administrators. The way the entire staff and faculty at St. Vincent de Paul have worked together to build a sustainable school culture of academic excellence and inclusion, testifies to the impact that Sr. Julie has had. Those three words that have guided the school’s messaging to families desiring a Catholic education—available, affordable, and accessible—are so ingrained in the school’s mission that there is little doubt that St. Vincent de Paul will continue to thrive and touch the lives of countless children who never thought a Catholic education could be possible.

Four Lessons Catholic Educators Should Consider When Recruiting Latino Students

Written by Bill Schmitt on Tuesday, 07 July 2015.

A principal who’s a proven recruiter of Latino students into Catholic schools sees four lessons to learn as the Alliance for Catholic Education’s many-faceted campaign to serve more kids from all backgrounds continues to evolve.

Mary Flock, who leads St. Gertrude the Great School in Bell Gardens, CA, came to Notre Dame for the Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) in 2011 to hear the first iteration of guidelines for more inclusive and accessible Catholic schools.

She put them into practice, and total enrollment jumped from a nadir of 42 to today’s 175 students. Flock returned to campus recently and offered her to-do list for an evolving campaign: four takeaways to inform your school’s efforts to welcome and recruit new families.

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Fair models of tuition flexibility based on need are crucial to a school’s mission and identity, but apply these models by combining sensitivity, full information, and mutual responsibility.

Sliding tuition scales, imperative if inner-city schools are to remain open, affordable, and mission-focused, can be scary, Flock said. In the past, school and parish leaders often feared that any “negotiation” of tuition levels would spark abuses and complaints. But flexibility works if the context combines responsiveness to needs, enduring relationships, and enforced responsibilities.

Many families in financial hardship who still want a quality education for their children approach Flock with requests for assistance, and she’s ready to listen, but she requires a two-way understanding. “I interview all of my families.” She can make arrangements that adjust to temporary crises, but she tells parents, “You’ve got to check in with me every month” so she’s informed of changing conditions. If families don’t communicate, she can withdraw special tuition breaks, and improprieties—which she has found are rare—can result in a student’s expulsion.

The compassionate commitment to make a quality education available to kids from all backgrounds is inseparable from fairness and accountability, Flock said. "It all boils down to: Am I staying true to the mission?" She has seen very little manipulation, and parent complaints about cost are small compared to their appreciation for the school’s values: “It’s the integrity of the situation that I uphold, not the nitpicking of the details.”

2. Expect every path to a more culturally responsive school to take its own turns over time, generating new ideas and opportunities to learn.

Outreach strategies that might have seemed like unilateral, one-size-fits-all approaches early in this decade gain new dimensions as principals from different communities report their unique experiences, Flock said. Novices still want basic insights—tips about multi-cultural openness, sliding tuition scales, etc.—as workable first steps. But those who have made strides now have follow-up questions and new ideas, like those voiced at the LEI every June.

For example, while many LEI schools had recruited madrinas—women highly respected in local Latino communities—to promote their schools, most volunteers who stepped forward to serve in Flock’s Los Angeles-area community were men, or padrinos.

Flock suggests that recruiters routinely ask those principals enjoying enrollment turnarounds, “What are you doing, and how can we help you be a change-maker?”

3. Identify and reach out to benefactors who share a passion for Catholic schools of the future, but earn their support in real time, through authentic relationships, focusing on the students.

Growing awareness of Catholic schools’ legacy as a lifeline for generations of immigrants has stirred support among benefactors and philanthropic organizations, Flock said. More principals and pastors now need to understand the dynamics of these valued partnerships.

Flock’s experience reflects the need for personal trust, honest encounters, and proven leadership. Generous donors she has worked with want to see quality people comfortable in the school, with reasonable growth prospects already in the offing, not a setting of decline and desperation.

She said benefactors ask, “Does your school have the capacity to grow, and if so, what is your vision for growing it? What enrollment numbers are you looking for? A lot of the focus is capacity-building and leadership and transparency.” Flock said supporters resonate with her intention: “I do it for the kids.”

4. Expect to be surprised by the “side-effects” from a school’s commitment to serve the disadvantaged, boost enrollment, and share its own Catholic character.

No one outline of Latino enrollment strategies can anticipate or encapsulate all the different impacts that arise in individual schools. Each principal will implement the strategies according to his or her personality, and it’s important for principals to be themselves—“not trying to please everybody,” Flock said. Indeed, schools have their own personalities, and it helps if a core charism adds consistency and joy to encounters with different cultures. Flock draws strength from her own school’s Salesian values.

“Every one of my teachers knows every kid’s name,” and the students visit her with suggestions and dreams because they know “they’re kids whom we love.”

Commitments and initiatives like those shared by principals nationwide through ACE’s annual Latino Enrollment Institute can have impacts far beyond a school’s visual appeal or financial and strategic changes. Flock said she left her first Institute meeting with a new confidence that a turnaround was possible for St. Gertrude. “It was the idea of hope,” and it proved contagious to staff members, parents, and students. ACE’s work has indeed prompted personal transformations. When Flock arrived in 2011, “the kids felt squashed,” she said. “It was a poor school with a poor man’s mentality. Now, in the last two years, our students have blossomed.”


A Pastor's Pledge to Increase Enrollment Sparks a Dramatic Turnaround at St. John Vianney School

Written by Steve McClure on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

SJVPhoenix1St. John Vianney Catholic School, located just west of Phoenix in Goodyear, Arizona, is a member of the third cohort of ACE’s Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame. Established under the leadership of Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, who now serves as the Director of University-School Partnerships and the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, the school once boasted a large and continuously growing student enrollment.

Similar to many Catholic schools around the country, however, St. John Vianney began experiencing some challenges maintaining enrollment in recent years. After several consecutive years seeing numbers drop off, Pastor Fr. Tom Eckert, C.S.C., resolved to reverse this trend.

At the Home and School Association meeting in May 2013, Fr. Tom, who had been Pastor of St. John Vianney Parish since 2011, pledged to personally bring in 20 new students for the upcoming school year. He challenged the parents at that meeting to do the same. Fr. Tom knew that with an additional 40 students, the school would be in a much more stable position.

Fr. Tom’s pledge was bolstered by the parish’s strongest marketing tool, the pulpit, as well as the addition of new school leadership in Doug Weivoda, the new principal, and Christine Tax, the new assistant principal. The pastoral leadership, which also included Fr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., a graduate of ACE Teaching Fellows and former teacher at St. John Vianney, spoke at all of the Masses about School Tuition Organizations (STOs) and Arizona’s robust scholarship tax credit program. This option meant that a Catholic education was indeed “available, affordable, and attainable."

Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax made it a priority to assist both new and returning families in identifying and applying for outside financial aid opportunities, and began by compiling a list of all available STOs. They provided bilingual volunteers during the application season to assist parents in filling out online and paper applications and worked to consolidate tuition and any additional fees in order to limit the out-of-pocket expenses that families might incur.”



St. John Vianney School’s market base has always been its parish, a predominantly Latino community with 600-700 children in the religious education program each year. Throughout their campaign to increase enrollment, Fr. Tom and Fr. Paul announced enrollment updates each week, and as RE parents regularly heard about the school at Mass and in RE parent meetings, the parish as a whole became active and excited stakeholders in the school’s growth.

Additionally, through divine providence—an important tenet of Holy Cross priests’ spirituality— Fr. Tom stumbled upon an unexpected form of fundraising. After a parishioner dropped off apricots from a local farm, he decided to bake two pies and sell them after Mass. The money from these pies was intended to cover the registration fee for new students whose families were in need of financial assistance. These pies were quickly snapped up, so Fr. Tom kept baking. Three months later, he had baked over 50 pies and had raised over $8,000. And more than just the additional scholarship money that Fr. Tom’s unexpected culinary endeavor generated, it got new families in the door. What made them stay was the consistent message that through adherence to the financial aid process, a Catholic education was indeed possible.

Throughout that summer, family after family came through St. John Vianney’s doors. Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax worked with every family to ensure that they could indeed afford to send their children to the school. “I will tell you that the parents that were the most reticent because of the cost are some of the happiest here today,” says Weivoda.

Despite this enrollment growth, the team at St. John Vianney didn’t stop there. The following summer, Mr. Weivoda and Mrs. Tax attended the Latino Enrollment Institute at Notre Dame to learn additional strategies and best practices for Latino recruitment and enrollment.

Today enrollment is just shy of 300 and continuing to grow. The school is currently 84% Latino, and since the 2012-13 school year, total enrollment has increased by 50%, and Latino enrollment has increased by 68%.

St. John Vianney's story is a true testament to the vitality and growth that can result from a committed pastor and school leadership working together to embrace the opportunity―and indeed the urgency―to reach out to and welcome Latino families into Catholic schools. “Our future relies on the success of the relationship between our school and our Latino population,” says Weivoda, “and the LEI has been an important component in achieving this.”

Combination of the LEI and Archdiocesan Latino Initiative Leads to Remarkable Growth at St. Cecilia School

on Thursday, 19 March 2015.

StCeciliaCincinnatiWhen Principal Michael Goedde signed St. Cecilia School up to attend the 2014 Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI), they had just experienced the largest increase in Latino students in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati during the 2013-14 school year. Despite this success, however, they were not about to stop there. Located in an urban part of Cincinnati with a growing Latino population, Mr. Goedde knew that they had only seen the tip of the iceberg.

Seeking additional strategies to reach out to the Latino families in their neighborhood, a team from St. Cecilia attended the LEI at Notre Dame in the summer of 2014. As the third school from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to participate in the LEI, they had a good sense for what the program had to offer.

Additionally, St. Cecilia School already benefited from strong Archdiocesan support through the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Latino outreach initiative, which began in 2011 in an effort to recruit and retain more Latino students in Cincinnati’s Catholic schools.

Mr. Goedde hoped that the LEI would challenge his team to build on the work that they had already begun and bring back new ideas and actionable steps to make St. Cecilia School a model for others.

“We want to be a beacon for Hispanic families so that the faith can flourish and students can be provided a top-notch education,” says Goedde. “We want to lay the foundation for future success for our children.”

After attending the LEI, St. Cecilia School nearly doubled their Latino enrollment. Since the 2011-12 school year, the first year of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Latino outreach initiative, the number of Latino students enrolled at St. Cecilia has increased from 5 to 50, with their total enrollment growing by 28% during that same period.

The intentionality with which Mr. Goedde and his team have approached Latino outreach and recruitment has been an important driver for change in the school. "Personal outreach at the nearby St. Charles Borromeo Parish, which has a large Latino population, was key to our success," says Goedde. Not only did they make the effort to personally meet and talk with families about opportunities at St. Cecilia, they developed marketing materials in Spanish, developed a tuition assistance program within the parish, shifted the methods of communication to be more inclusive of all cultures, and celebrated the universality of our faith.

Although St. Cecilia had already taken measures to more effectively engage the Latino families in their community prior to attending the LEI, attending the program allowed them to continue to build on that work. “We learned new strategies and approaches, and we were able to formulate a strategic plan to continue increasing our enrollment of Latino students,” says Goedde. “It gave our team new energy and determination to continue this work, not only for our schools, but for the Church as a whole.”

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