Sunday, January 30, 2000

Catholic schools celebrate success

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Maybe it's the sign language they teach in kindergarten. Or it could be small class size. “Volunteer grandmas” and tutors from Mother of Mercy, Ursuline, Purcell Marian, St. Xavier and McAuley high schools are a draw, too.

        And of course, there's the values and virtues.

  Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati enroll 57,625 students in 19 counties. That's the ninth-largest system of Catholic schools in the United States.
  It includes 22 high schools and 112 elementaries.
  Ninety-eight percent of high schoolers graduate, 94 percent pursued higher education in 1999 and 44 percent received scholarships topping $38 million.
  Twelve percent of students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese aren't Catholic. Eight percent are minorities. In city schools, half are minorities and half aren't Catholic.
  Students in the archdiocese score in the top third on nationally standardized tests.
  —Source: Archdiocese of Cincinnati
        While Cincinnati Public Schools' enrollment has fallen by about 5,400 pupils in the past decade, the student body at St. Joseph School in the West End has doubled. At the same time, enrollment at the 38 Catholic schools within the city district's boundaries has grown modestly by about 300 to nearly 16,100 students.

        St. Joseph School and Archdiocese of Cincinnati leaders credit the values, rigorous academics and discipline associated with Catholic schools, as well as the perks mentioned earlier, for the expanding enrollment in the city's Catholic schools.

        “Our schools are in the business of more than just education,” Superintendent Sister Kathryn Ann Connelly said. “We do recognize that there is something beyond information, so we are as interested in formation as we are in education.”

        As Catholic Schools Week kicks off Monday, archdiocesan leaders are celebrating success stories such as St. Joseph's as they try to maintain enrollment within the city's Catholic schools despite declining birth rates, urban flight and burgeoning charter schools.

        Adjoining low-income housing on Ezzard Charles Drive, St. Joseph faces some of the same challenges as CPS schools — high transiency rates and underprivileged students. It's one of eight inner-city schools supported by a special fund for Catholic schools where more than 60 percent of students are low-income.

        Yet enrollment there has grown from about 120 students in 1989-90 to 240 this year.

        Values and strong academics led Inez Stallworth, 35, of North Fairmount, to enroll her daughter Danielle, 6, at St. Joseph.

        “They teach her along the same guidelines I'm raising her on,” she said, referring to her Christian beliefs.

        Discipline, one-on-one attention and teachers who care about students are what prompted Rosalind Stevenson, 39, of Westwood, to enroll her son Aaron Johnson, 7.

        “The public schools are so rowdy,” Ms. Stevenson said.

        Frequent ear infections leave her boy with hearing troubles, which have led to learning problems, she said. But St. Joseph offers speech therapy, tutoring and personalized attention to help him overcome those problems, she added.

        Kindergarten teacher Marie Iezzoni said she has turned down more lucrative teaching offers and works as a waitress to supplement her salary because she loves teaching at St. Joseph.

        “I can totally be myself and bring all that I know and believe in to my students,” she said. “I can talk about religion without feeling squelched, and that's important in educating students.”

        Some Catholic schools in the city have experienced enrollment troubles. Although enrollment in the eight Catholic high schools in the city district's boundaries grew by 70 students since last year, Catholic elementaries lost nearly 200 students in that time.

        The biggest losses in the past decade came in Price Hill and west-side neighborhoods such as Sedamsville and Riverside. In Price Hill, St. William School's enrollment fell from 477 in 1989-90 to 392 this year, and St. Lawrence School's fell from 414 in 1989-90 to 323 this year.

        Sister Kathryn Ann blames declining birth rates and urban flight and predicts charter schools could pose a serious threat in coming years.

        The archdiocese now is testing a marketing plan to help such schools boost flagging enrollment, Sister Kathryn Ann said. That plan, which advises school officials how to publicize programs and draw the community into schools, primarily targets the archdiocese's inner-city and rural schools, she added.


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