As I begin to set up my own marketing company, I have undertaken the challenge of going back to school. I have enrolled in some classes about fundraising and development. The classes have been challenging and rewarding all at the same time. The new knowledge that I am learning I can immediately apply to many Catholic school scenarios. Taking my knowledge of Catholic schools, teir financial issues and their resource and applying my newfound knowledge leads me to the conclusion that there is a way out for many Catholic schools. The problem arises, agagin, the lack of business training for many of the school proncipals and superintendents. Working over the last two weeks with Saint Charles Borromeo Academy in Point Loma, exemplifies this scenario. I needed to develop an annual giving plan for a non-profit organization. An old friend of mine recommended I contact Saint Charles Borromeo Academy (SCBA) for assistance. The school has been in existence for 63 years. They however, run on a skeleton staff with one principal and two parent fundraising volunteers. The ideas I presented to the principal were simply and easy to employ, but needed one or two volunteers. Mr. Mamara was grateful for my assistance, but admitted that he was never trained in fundraising and development. If these schools are to survive, they need to see the importance of development to ensure the sustainability of Catholic education!
I have just come from my parish’s “Fiesta with Friends” – a two-day parish community celebration. There are games and rides for the kids, booths and food, food, food. The parish is made up of not only the school parents, but people representing all the ministries of the church and people who are not directly involved in a ministry of the church. The best aspect of the fiesta is the sense of community it brings. As I walk through the crowded aisles of people, I am surprised with the amount of people who I know from this community. Some are parents and students of the school, some are involved in the Knights of Columbus, some are people who I have seen week after week in Mass, and others are members of the community who have come to this celebration to see what it’s all about.
When you attend a Catholic school, you are more than just a school parent, you become a member of a greater family. One of the greatest strengths that a Catholic school offers is the sense of family. Often times in a society where people are just too busy with their hectic schedules and family demands, there are few places that celebrate just being together. That’s what a Catholic community offers. You are a member of something greater and will forever be a part of a larger mission. With this being said, Catholic school administrators and parents alike should stand up and proudly resound, “We are Catholic education!”
I have been reading The Wall Street Journal that the new trend in fashion is “what’s old is new again”. LL Bean’s classic look and Gucci’s original purse designs are in vogue. The rationale is the in times of economic uncertainty, people crave what is tried and true. Thus, classic styles and cuts are making a come back. If this is the case, Catholic education should be seeing a resurgence in interest. Many Catholic schools can trace their history back 40, 50 or even 60+ years. How many business can boast of being in business 50 years? Catholic schools have remained in business for so long because while public schools often follow the latest trend in educational pedagogy, Catholic schools have stayed with the tried and true methods of teaching – focusing on the basics! Catholic schools are once again ahead of the trend, but no one knows that because Catholic schools do not advertise their proven track record. Just as with fashion, trends in education have come and gone. In my lifetime, I have seen such educational philosophies as “new math” and not requiring students to learn to spell words correctly because it stifles their creativity! New Math! Mathematics has been around since the time of the Greeks, how can you make it “new”? As for spelling, at some point in your high school, college or professional career, you will be required to write something without the assistance of spellcheck.
If what’s old is new again, then let’s celebrate over 300 years of Catholic education. Never bowing to educational trends, but always providing a high quality education.
At its peak, the Catholic church could have boasted of over 8,000 Catholic schools nationwide in the 1950s. However, this is no longer the case. One of the problems with Catholic schools is in the administration of Catholic schools. Most elementary schools are run by a principal and the pastor of the parish serves as the superintendent of the school. This governance model worked well when there was a glut of Catholic school students and little competition. At one time, the choice for your child’s education was either a public school or a Catholic school. The times have changed and parents have more options. Many parents who are dissatisfied with the public school system are opting for either charter schools or homeschooling for their children. Faced with increased competition and increasing costs, many Catholic schools have kept the same model.
One of the problems with this model is in the role of the principal itself. Many of the principals of Catholic schools are former teachers who have moved up through the ranks. These men and women have spent 10,20 or even 30 years as a classroom teacher. Many have gone on to receive a Master’s degree in education or related field, but no Master’s program could prepare them for the complexities of running a school in this business environment unless it was an MBA, not an M. Ed., that they received. The environment in which Catholic schools operate has completely changed. They are faced with competition from a variety of sources. Catholic schools which boast of academic excellence, are terrible at marketing themselves. Many Catholic schools still rely on bingo and bake sales as a means of support. These are the same fundraising methods that have been used for 40 years! Catholic schools need to market themselves differently. The problem is that the people who are running the schools know education, not fundraising. They stay with the tried and true methods that were adequate in the past, but do not ensure long-term financial solvency in the future. How could they? They are educators, not business people! Until Catholic schools wake up and see that they are running a business, the business of educating the youth of America, they will continue to have financial problems. No offense to the hard-working, under-paid principal s in this country, you are experts in curriculum, not business development.
Unfortunately, the losers in this scenario are the children who will be denied a Catholic education. They will never know the difference a Catholic education can make.
Catholic schools can trace their establishment back to the early 1600s with the Franciscans opening the first school in St. Augustine, Florida. Over the years, Catholic schools blossomed to their peak in the 1950s. At that time, it was common for the classroom to have 50 to 60 students and one well-trained nun overseeing the education of the children. After Vatican II, Catholic schools experienced a slow and steady decline in enrollment. Student enrollment has declined by 20% since 2000. Between 2009 to 2010, 73,190 children left Catholic schools. 174 Catholic schools closed during the same period.
Catholic schools have always stood for academic excellence and religious formation. They have proven year after year to provide a high quality education in the fullness of the Catholic faith. So if Catholic schools are so good, then why are they closing at such an alarming rate?
In a nutshell, the problem with Catholic schools is not the school itself, but the lack of marketing. At one time, Catholic schools had an abundance of students from the neighborhood. The demographics have changed and many people have moved away from the old neighborhood to the suburbs. In addition, Catholic schools are not accustomed to having to compete against other educational institutions for the student population. Catholic schools do not market themselves and do not know the first thing about marketing. So every year, they pray a little harder and wish for more students but do nothing to promote themselves to the their target market. And so it goes on, year after year, until another school is forced to close its doors.