By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Two years into the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic Elementary School Plan, elementary and secondary schools are seeing an increase in both enrollment and diversity, said Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools. Total enrollment stands at 19,526 students, which is 264 more than last year.
The Catholic Elementary School Plan was a joint initiative of the archdiocese and the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF). It called for both an increase in accessibility to Catholic schools and tuition assistance.
“Increased enrollment is a wonderful outcome of all the efforts by the whole Catholic community that has been involved the last couple of years,” Schulz said in an interview last week. “We know we offer wonderful education programs, so to be able to have that available to additional students and families is really the ultimate goal.”
St. Rita School added the most students this year, by far. The Okolona school is up by 48 students over last year’s total, bringing their enrollment to 307.
The substantial increase in enrollment happened in part “by reaching out to communities that, before, really did not have a strong relationship with Catholic schools, primarily Hispanic families,” Schulz said.
Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the CEF, said what is happening at St. Rita can happen at any school in the archdiocese.
“Two years ago the school was at 188, now they are 307 and growing,” he said in an interview last week. “It’s a situation where the parish, school administration, the pastor, archdiocese and the CEF all came together for a common goal.”
He said outreach occurred both in the neighborhood surrounding the school and within the Hispanic community, noting that one in every two students at St. Rita is non-white. Two years ago that statistic was one in 10.
“St. Rita is the fastest growing Catholic school in all of Kentucky, for the second year in a row,” he said.
Other schools are showing growth, too. St. Michael School in Jeffersontown added 30 students this year, St. Paul School on Dixie Highway is up 26 students and St. James School in Elizabethtown, Ky., increased by 25.
Schools reporting an uptick in enrollment also include Holy Spirit, St. Albert the Great and St. Margaret Mary. These schools had reported decreased numbers in the past several years, Lechleiter said.
High schools have experienced a bump in enrollment, too. Holy Cross High School added 23 students. Assumption High School is up by 19 students and DeSales High School added 15.
Schulz said two factors contributed to the uptick in new students this year.
First, the increased outreach and financial assistance at the elementary school level played a role, Schulz said. The work of the nine high schools to increase scholarships and tuition assistance contributed to the overall enrollment increase, too, she said. Of the 264 new students this year, 60 were added at the high school level.
Second, the addition of three existing independent Catholic schools to the archdiocese factored into the increase. On Jan. 21, the archdiocese announced it would recognize Corpus Christi Classical Academy in Simpsonville, Ky., and Immaculata Classical Academy as independent Catholic schools. The archdiocese also renewed and expanded its recognition of Holy Angels Academy.
Lechleiter agreed the addition of three schools to the archdiocese’s roster was significant, particularly because of the location of the schools.
“I just think about where the schools are. One is on Preston Highway, one is in Middletown and one is in Shelby County,” he said.
Lechleiter said the growth at Corpus Christi is particularly encouraging.
“It reported 55 students this fall. A year ago they had 33. We’ve had tremendous outreach going on in Simpsonville related to Latino families,” he said adding he fully expects Corpus Christi’s enrollment to rapidly increase.
Lechleiter said the hard work of all the funding partners — the foundation, the archdiocese and parishes — is starting to pay off.
“We’re excited about the momentum and the growth we are seeing,” he said. “It tells us our plan is working.”
The foundation plans to increase its already dogged outreach to schools, Lechleiter said, to reach more schools. He said he’d like to see St. Stephen Martyr School add more students, noting the school on Hess Lane has “huge growth opportunity.”
He recalled the foundation’s plan to add 1,000 elementary students by the fall of 2019 and said he felt confident the goal was still within reach.
“We are not worried about running out of money,” he said. “We will never run out of people in this community that care about Catholic education and the value it brings to someone’s life.”