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Bright Spots from the LEI: St. Gertrude the Great School

on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.

St. Gertrude the Great is a Catholic elementary school rooted in the Salesian tradition and located in the predominantly Latino community of Bell Gardens, California. It is the only Catholic school serving five of the surrounding communities, but after numerous years of declining enrollment, it was slated to close in 2011. That year, Mary Flock was hired as the new principal and inherited a school with no books, 7 teachers, and only 42 students. And if the task of turning the school around were not daunting enough, she was given one year to make it happen.

Mary and her team rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and from day one, her focus was on building a community. Through a lot of hard work, creativity, and sheer will to see St. Gertrude School succeed, Mary and her team were able to increase their enrollment from 42 students to 110 in a single year. Following that year, in the summer of 2012, Mary and her team attended the first Latino Enrollment Institute (LEI) at Notre Dame to further build on the progress they had already made. They also worked closely with ACE’s field consultant in Los Angeles to implement the Madrinas marketing model. Today, St. Gertrude the Great School is thriving with 176 students enrolled, many of whom are from first-generation Latino families, and Mary serves as a mentor principal for the LEI.

Bright Spots from the LEI: St. Clement School

on Tuesday, 16 December 2014.

St. Clement School, located in the village of St. Bernard in Cincinnati, OH, is a pre-K though 8 Catholic School rooted in the Franciscan tradition. St. Clement School has served the community of St. Bernard for over 160 years, but in more recent years was in danger of closing as enrollment began to decline. That all changed when Principal Jeff Eiser and his wife, Rosie, first came to the school in 2010. For Jeff, a former sheriff's deputy of 29 years, this is a second career. He and his wife, Rosie, saw it as an opportunity to minister together and change young lives through Catholic education. Rosie serves as the volunteer school librarian, but her role extends far beyond that, as she is the main point of contact for the school's Hispanic families. As a wife, mother, and native Spanish-speaker, she is able to identify with the families, speak with them in their native language, and forge strong relationships, which has borne fruit in those families going out and spreading the word about St. Clement.

While St. Clement School continues to be very diverse, it too has followed the same demographic growth trends as much of the nation. The number of Latino families in the parish and the surrounding community have grown at a much faster rate, which gave impetus to St. Clement sending a team to the Latino Enrollment Institute at the University of Notre Dame in the summer 2013. Today, St. Clement School's enrollment is the highest it has been in 20 years.

St. Christopher Parish Community Raises Over $2 Million in Pledge Drive to Save Catholic School

on Friday, 14 February 2014.

St.Chris WeDidItWhen Maureen Wilson accepted the job as principal of St. Christopher School in Midlothian, Illinois, she knew she faced an uphill battle. As an AIM school (the Archdiocesan Initiative Model in which the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Catholic Schools, with the consent of the pastor, takes over full operating authority of a school for three years to help with marketing, budgeting, and personnel decisions), St. Christopher was already in dire need of a financial and enrollment turnaround.

Ms. Wilson is no stranger to saving a Catholic school on the brink of closure, however. Just last year, as principal of St. Leonard School in Berwyn, Illinois, she spearheaded a targeted recruiting effort after having participated in the first annual Latino Enrollment Institute - an initiative of ACE and the Catholic School Advantage Campaign at the University of Notre Dame. In the 2012-13 school year, Ms. Wilson and her team brought in 50 new Latino students, which was the school's first enrollment increase in many years.

Now in her first year as principal at St. Christopher School, she has increased enrollment to 215, up 50 students from the previous year. Despite this upward trend, however, the enrollment turnaround alone was not enough to return the school to financial stability.

Early in January, Ms. Wilson received the disheartening news that the school would be closed at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Even with the Archdiocese's support through grants, scholarships, and loans in excess of $1 million, St. Christopher was simply no longer economically viable.

While this story has become all too common in recent years, the response of the St. Christopher community following the announcement of the school's impending closure was not. Rather than sit idly by and accept this fate, the parish community came together, undaunted by the mountain they had to climb and determined to rewrite the next chapter of their school's story.

Compelled by gratitude for everyone who has served St. Christopher over the years – the Archdiocese of Chicago, parents and alumni, and every one of the teachers and principals, past and present – the community vowed to continue the school's proud tradition of providing a bright future for all those who walk through its doors. On January 15th, the "Gift to St. Chris Education" pledge drive was launched.

Between January 15th and 24th, the team at St. Christopher School raised over $2 million in pledges to keep their school open! Overwhelmed by the outpouring of financial support, volunteer work, and prayers from the school's families, parishioners, alumni, and friends, Ms. Wilson says "This is just so amazing. I feel like George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life! St. Chris is such an amazing community... the news awoke a sleeping giant! We had pledges coming in from alumni scattered across the country."

In the school finance council's proposal to the Archdiocese, they presented everything that their team had to offer, highlighting not only their long-term financial plan, but the sustained and heightened efforts of a parish family and its commitment to their school and surrounding community:

We have been successful in developing a long-term financial plan solution of responsibility; an affirmation of continued development and required enrollment growth, and, in addition, sharing with you evidence of a "birth" taking place towards our journey in faith. The life of our church has taken this news rather than a swallowing-up, a vehicle of awakening toward an understanding of needed sacrifice, commitment and working together with God's love at the helm. This "new birth" combined with our parish and school's rich history is what we are striving for, especially on behalf of those who may be less fortunate. To the family that has already come to St. Christopher after surviving two Catholic school closings with their children, to the people who depend on our site to have Catholic Charities meals and warmth and St. Vincent de Paul's food supply, we have to continue with a mindset of service.

The incredible success of St. Christopher's $2 million pledge drive has insured the school's financial viability and stability for the next eight years and into the foreseeable future. In fact, the Archdiocese stated that St. Christopher's proposal was one of the best they had ever seen, and that the school community's response to the events of the past few weeks could serve as a model to other schools in the diocese and nationwide.

Although much work still lies ahead, the St. Christopher community can move forward knowing that their school will be able to continue its long history of excellence for many years to come. And under the leadership of Principal Maureen Wilson, opportunities for further growth will most certainly abound.

St. Clement School Gets Significant Enrollment Boost in Outreach to Latino Families

on Thursday, 13 February 2014.

St. Clement StorySt. Clement School in St. Bernard, Ohio is already seeing significant enrollment gains since participating in the CSA's Latino Enrollment Institute. Recently featured in the The Catholic Telegraph, a publication of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, St. Clement's turnaround has been credited to the school's "inclusivity." Since last year, they have experienced an increase in enrollment from 154 students to 201, and 33 of those students are Latino.

Both the principal, Jeff Eiser, and his wife, Rosie, the school's volunteer librarian, attended the LEI last summer. Also in attendance with them was Sr. Ann Vonder Meulen, a teacher at the school, and Mayra Alza, Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.


Read the full story in the Catholic Telegraph on St. Clement School's enrollment turnaround and Mayra Alza's outreach to Latino families in Cincinnati.

Latino Families in Near Eastside Neighborhood Find a Home at St. Philip Neri School

on Monday, 28 October 2013.

Latino Families in Near Eastside Neighborhood Find a Home at St. Philip Neri School

St. Philip Neri Catholic School, located in the 44-square-block area just east of downtown Indianapolis known as the Near Eastside, is part of the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies, a consortium of schools committed to closing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students in urban areas of Indianapolis. In a neighborhood that is notorious for high rates of crime and poverty, St. Philip Neri School stands as a sign of hope for the children and community that it serves.

While Indianapolis may not be home to the largest or fastest growing Latino population in the country, St. Philip Neri School reflects quite a different reality. In the past decade, the school has undergone a remarkable demographic shift, experiencing an increase in Latino enrollment from 13% in 2003 to 99% today. With nearly 100 percent Latino enrollment, it is one example of the many extraordinary urban Catholic schools that have found new life in serving the Latino community.

CSW - February 2011The transformation of St. Philip Neri School into a thriving institution to which a great number of Latino families entrust their children's intellectual and spiritual formation could not have been achieved without the tireless efforts of the school's leadership - former principal, Mary McCoy and current principal, Gary Asher. Both graduates of the ACE Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher are well equipped as educational and spiritual leaders and possess the strategies needed to foster successful school community. Mary served as principal of St. Philip Neri for seven years, until this past July when she accepted a position as Assistant Superintendent of Instruction for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Although truly effective and transformative school leadership is not easy to replace, St. Philip Neri School could not be in better hands as Gary Asher, after having served five years as assistant principal alongside Mrs. McCoy, has assumed the role of principal.

When Mrs. McCoy first came to St. Philip Neri in 2006, there were 151 students enrolled in the school with 83% Latino. Having stepped into the role in the middle of a demographic shift that was clearly well underway, Mrs. McCoy refuses to take much credit for the influx of Latino students to the school. However, with a respective 52% and 31% passing rate in language arts and math on the ISTEP, as well as years of high faculty turnover, much work needed to be done in order to effectively serve this new population.

Mrs. McCoy had to hire several new teachers in her first year on the job, but took a very intentional approach to transforming the school environment, creating a welcoming community, and also setting high expectations for academics, attendance, and discipline. Since her first year as principal, St. Philip Neri has seen a significant increase in ISTEP scores – 75% passing in language arts and 72% in math – as well as successive years of enrollment increases. The most recent school year finished with 209 students and 99% Latino, and 220 are already registered for this upcoming year.

While St. Philip Neri reflects many of the best practices identified by the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher both agree that the factors that have contributed most to their successful recruitment and retention of Latino families have been the natural social networks existing within the Latino community, and a school environment with which Latino families can immediately identify. 

IMG 0044When a family walks into the front office of St. Philip Neri School, they are greeted by Maria Lomeli at the front desk, the school's administrative assistant. Maria began working at St. Philip Neri in 2004, which Mrs. McCoy notes is probably one of the main reasons why the Latino enrollment grew so quickly. Maria is originally from Tala, a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which is where many of the school's families are from, many of whom are first-generation immigrants. "Having Maria at our front desk eliminates any language barriers that could potentially exist for our current and prospective families and her influence within the Latino community cannot be overemphasized," says Mrs. McCoy. In addition to Maria, several other members of the St. Philip Neri School staff are from Tala, forging an even stronger sense of community amongst the staff, students, and parents. Mr. Asher also mentions that the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the front entrance of the school is "an immediate message to Hispanic families that they belong here." While the use of this widely recognized symbol of Latino Catholicism and a bilingual staff member in the front office are just two simple examples of a culturally responsive school environment, their presence speaks volumes.

When asked what recruitment and marketing strategies they employ, both Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher said that retention has been their main focus, not recruitment. "If we can retain our students, our recruitment issue is solved," says Mrs. McCoy. "The word is out about St. Philip Neri School." While no Catholic school is exempt from at least some form of outreach to maintain enrollment, the existing social networks in the community surrounding St. Philip Neri have left very little of the recruitment and marketing to Mrs. McCoy and her staff. "Word spreads quickly in the community about our school. Parents know that if they want their children in pre-K, they have to register in January,"she says.

With their focus on student retention and providing the best educational experience possible, Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher identified cultural awareness as a primary concerns regarding the commitment of teaching in a school with nearly 100% Latino enrollment. Thus professional development for teachers and staff addressing cultural awareness would be essential. Some of the ideas that they implemented were bringing in a panel of Latino parents from which the faculty could learn about the culture, expectations, and desires parents had for their children, training from a state-level professional on culturally responsive teaching methods, and even ideas as simple as emphasizing from the very beginning of the interview process that being a teacher at St. Philip Neri School means being an ENL teacher. Furthermore, as part of the Remick Leadership Program, Mary conducted an action research project on school culture at St. Philip Neri, consisting of a pre- and post-survey of 18 faculty and staff members to both gauge the knowledge, attitude, feelings, mindset, and needs of teachers working in an urban school with a large Hispanic enrollment, and to determine the impact of professional development programs focusing on Hispanic culture. The findings of the study showed that participation in cultural awareness workshops had a very positive influence on staff and teachers, and as a result, these workshops have become routine at St. Philip Neri School.

While there are a few changes in store for this upcoming school year - particularly that of leadership - St. Philip Neri School will certainly continue to thrive. Mr. Asher has been instrumental in making St. Philip Neri a place of intellectual and spiritual growth that countless Latino families in the Near Eastside call home. And although it's not easy to leave a place she has grown to love so much, Mrs. McCoy won't be far away and will continue to serve Indianapolis Catholic schools with the Archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education. The dramatic transformation of both culture and student achievement under the direction of Mrs. McCoy and Mr. Asher at St. Philip Neri School is a true testament to the possibilities that arise when committed and capable Catholic school leaders embrace the changing community around them and provide for the fullest experience of the Catholic school advantage.

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