Collaboration, not competition, was the unwritten theme of a Parish Schools Colloquium held recently at La Salle High School in Pasadena.
Representatives from six Catholic elementary schools (mainly school board members along with principals and other administrators) gathered to explore ways they could work together, share resources and expertise to strengthen the cause of Catholic education. Schools represented included Assumption, St. Andrew and St. Philip the Apostle (Pasadena), Holy Family (South Pasadena), St. Elizabeth (Altadena) and St. Rita (Sierra Madre).
“If we all do well on our own, we can all do better as a united group,” said Anne Garrett, school board president at St. Philip the Apostle School in Pasadena, who helped organize the meeting. “When we up the level of Catholic education in the San Gabriel Valley, all our schools will benefit.”
Added, Dr. Richard Gray, president of La Salle High School: “It’s not inevitable that there will be a decline in enrollment in our Catholic schools in our archdiocese. We are in a period of transition, and collaboration is going to be vital.”
According to the National Catholic Educational Association, since 2000 elementary school enrollment in Catholic schools has declined by 38.2 percent in 12 urban dioceses and 25.3 percent in the rest of the United States. That has led, in some cases, to Catholic schools competing for an increasingly smaller number of students in and beyond their parish boundaries. This puts many schools often at odds with neighboring parishes and schools to “fill seats.”
Gray shared admittedly sobering stories of Catholic school shutdowns across the country, but he also presented successes that he used as encouragement to the evening’s participants.
Success starts with “your school board,” said Gray. He urged school officials to make sure they have a functioning board comprised of not just parishioners and parents, but also alumni, community leaders, clergy, alumni and local business people. This mixture, he contends, will help guide the school in decision-making as well as establishing the school as a fixture in the community and public eye.
Gray also emphasized the need to think “out of the box” and collaboratively. For example, it may be too expensive for one school to bring in a professional marketer to help promote an event, but if schools join together for a common cause they can hire a marketer and share the cost.
During the breakout sessions, participants discussed issues, shared mutual concerns, and learned alternative ways to get their job done.
At the marketing session, a lively discussion centered on getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to advertising and marketing. “Facebook is free and we all need to take advantage of social media,” declared one attendee. Another added that school alumni are running their school’s Facebook page, which has helped tremendously with outreach and “likes.”
Infusing Catholicity into the school day was the topic at the Catholic Identity session. One participant suggested that some religion teachers are not sufficiently knowledgeable about Church teachings, adding that, just like math and reading are “scaffolding” between grades, religion and faith-centered teachings must be likewise. School leaders and board members, the participant said, need to make sure that is the case.
The Finances session delved into fundraising and volunteers. Some participants lamented the parents who “opt out” of their mandatory service hours. “So many times, it’s the same people working at events and they are the ones paying for it as well,” one participant remarked. “And they are the ones not having the fun.”
Another participant suggested that when her school upped the “opt out” financial rate dramatically, the school suddenly saw more volunteers. “Let me tell you, raising that fee does the trick,” she said.
In the end, participants exchanged emails and phone numbers, promising to help and be resources for one another. This is only the beginning, said Garrett, adding that regular meetings between different school boards and school reps are in the works.