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St. Leonard Catholic School

on Monday, 25 March 2013.

Having grown up in and graduated from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Maureen Wilson has been a lifelong advocate of these uniquely effective and transformative educational institutions. She furthered her commitment to Catholic education when she became principal of St. Leonard School in Berwyn, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago. Although she had held other teaching and administrative positions in Catholic schools over the years, this was her first time as principal, which can be a daunting task when walking into a school that has seen annual enrollment decreases for several consecutive years. "When I became principal of St. Leonard," says Maureen, "for one reason or another, the school had lost over 40 students from the previous year." Rather than feel discouraged by this, Maureen jumped to action, realizing that the school would realistically need a few building years, but found encouragement in the fact that "the families at St. Leonard sincerely cared about their school." Maureen immediately contacted Ryan Blackburn, the Marketing Director for the Office of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, who in turn put her in contact with Juana Sanchez-Graber, field consultant for the University of Notre Dame's Catholic School Advantage Campaign in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Per Juana and Ryan's suggestion, Maureen assembled a marketing team to focus specifically on Latino recruitment and enrollment. "We listened to and implemented all of their ideas; from establishing a Parent Ambassador program, employing Spanish-speaking staff, and creating all marketing materials in both English and Spanish, to generating more scholarships and making financial aid more accessible to all families who need it," says Maureen. In addition, she and her staff have made a concerted effort to make their school more visible in both the parish and in the Berwyn community. This past Christmas, the students put on a production of Las Posadas for the church community – the Hispanic tradition celebrating the nine months that Mary carried Jesus in her womb and reenacting their search for a place to stay. It received a very positive response. Additionally, the students of St. Leonard will participate in a Latin American Parade of Nations this spring in which the Berwyn Police Department will accompany them on floats as they parade around town. While their outreach to the Latino community has paid off significantly, seeing a Latino enrollment boost of 50 students this past year, Maureen notes that, "this mission has been about so much more than increasing our enrollment numbers at our school; it has made us all more cognizant of the beautiful culture within our community, and we have embraced the changes that reflect the future of our school and our nation."

When asked what the single best piece of advice she could offer to other schools facing similar challenges would be, Maureen said, "BE VISIBLE in the community! I wear my St. Leonard shirt everywhere I go. I recruited a family while at the laundromat waiting for my clothes to dry!" She also notes how important it is to get to know not only the students in your school, but their families as well. "The best advertising is word-of-mouth," says Maureen. "When we promote and deliver the three pillars on which St. Leonard School prides itself – faith, family, and academic excellence – word inevitably spreads and more and more families seek to enroll their children here." The enrollment surge over the past year has been a true testament to this as St. Leonard's total enrollment increased by 41 students, their first increase since 2007.

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