Catholic schools experience growth

A report released last week by the Catholic Schools Office indicates enrollment is up in Archdiocese of Louisville schools.

Total enrollment in local Catholic schools for 2022-2023, from pre-kindergarten to high school, stands at 18,343 students, which is 137 more than last school year, according to the report.

Preschool and elementary school enrollment grew by 308 students this school year, a 2.4 percent increase. Twenty-five of the 39 elementary schools added students. High school enrollment saw an overall decrease.

The preschool and elementary school growth stretches across the archdiocese, from Fern Creek to Lebanon, Ky., said Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation. The foundation supports enrollment by awarding tuition assistance to qualified families.

St. Gabriel School in Fern Creek added 34 students this school year, and St. Augustine School in Lebanon added 20 students.

Dr. Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of Catholic schools, believes the increase stems, in part, from the way Catholic schools handled the pandemic.

She believes Catholic schools showed resilience in bringing students back to in-person learning and “staying the course.” That made families take notice, she said.

Catholic schools, which operate more independently of one another than a typical school system, were able to tailor their COVID-19 protocols to their individual needs on a day-to-day basis. That eventually enabled them to return to in-person learning sooner than other school systems in the region.

Lechleiter agreed with Bowling’s assessment.

“We stuck with our protocols and the children learned and we did it in a safe way,” he said. “More people are standing up and saying, ‘They’re different.’ ”

Lechleiter pointed to a recent report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” which showed Catholic schools have recovered more quickly from the effects of the pandemic than public schools.

The report showed that “across the nation, our kids advanced in their learning. It’s fascinating,” he said.

“Things couldn’t be going better. We’re helping the largest number of kids than ever before,” he said. This school year, the CEF awarded $7.7 million in tuition assistance to 3,600 students.

Bowling said the partnership between the Office of Catholic Schools and the CEF also affects growth. She noted that one of the biggest challenges for Catholic schools is retaining students after they’ve completed pre-kindergarten and grade school tuition becomes a factor for families.

“That’s where our partnership with the CEF does such a beautiful job, telling them (families), ‘You can do it,’ ” said Bowling.

Lechleiter also noted that, in the past eight years, the foundation has awarded aid to every qualified family that applied for assistance.

While the CEF is doing its part to make Catholic education accessible, Bowling said her office is working to make sure the students are reaching their potential.

“What I’m looking at is what we’re doing in helping the students grow in their learning,” she said. Her office is currently looking at Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth test scores to “make sure the students we’re welcoming are growing in their learning. … It’s not just about accepting them. We’re being focused on the experience they have.”

Bowling noted that teachers and pastors are instrumental in Catholic schools’ success.

“I can’t say enough about our teachers and pastors,” she added.

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