Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Aug
  • 28

Diocesan school year starts with change and hope

Posted By August 28, 2014 | 1:21 pm | Lead Story #2

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

WORCESTER – As students head back to class, there will be a number of changes within the diocesan school system.
In Gardner, there is now one Catholic elementary school instead of two. Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart elementary schools have merged to form a new institute called Holy Family Academy, with two campuses located at the former schools.
Several elementary schools have new principals. Bobbie French has stepped into that role at St. Anna Elementary School in Leominster and Deborah W. Wright will be leading St. Bernard Elementary School in Fitchburg. Also, in Millbury, John Hoogasian has been hired as principal at Assumption School.
It was reported earlier in The Catholic Free Press that Father John Daly, curriculum specialist for the Catholic school department, will also establish an Advanced Academy at St. Bernard that will feature advanced classes for freshman and sophomores, as well as Advanced Placement, or AP, courses for juniors and seniors.
Delma Josephson, PhD., superintendent for the Worcester Diocese, said Father Daly will also help usher in what’s known as “blended learning,” an educational style that relies heavily upon technology for both instruction and data collection to assess a student’s progress. This instruction can be customized, as some students progress faster than others. Although computers are used, the lessons are still guided by the teacher.
This initiative, said Mrs Josephson, will enable a teacher to “maximize” the use of classroom time.
Facing every Catholic school administrator throughout the country is the reality of declining enrollment. Since the 1960s, when there were 5.2 million students in the nation’s parochial schools, there has been a steady drop in both the number of schools as well as in enrollment figures.
In 2003, there were 10,707 children within the diocesan school system. By 2013, that number had fallen to 7,753.
Mrs Josephson said enrollment for the 2014-2015 school year will not be finalized until October. But she believes the situation has stabilized.
“I’m very pleased with enrollment at this point in time,” she stated. “The picture is looking stronger. We’re not seeing the huge losses we were seeing a couple of years ago.”
Mrs Josephson reports seeing an “encouraging trend” in the Central Catholic schools, run by the diocese. These include Fitchburg’s St. Bernard High School and Worcester’s Holy Name High School, as well as St. Peter’s Elementary and St. Peter-Marian Junior-Senior High School, in Worcester.
She said the worst seemed to hit about four or five years ago, during an economic downturn that made it difficult for many families to afford tuition.
“It deeply impacted enrollment numbers,” she recalled. In our Central Catholic schools it’s looking much better. This year’s numbers are encouraging.”
Mrs Josephson said the mission of boosting the student population falls upon the individual schools. “Each school has really been doing a wonderful job” at getting the word out, she noted.
“There is far more interest in the last year or so at the schools,” she added.
However, she admitted that financial constraints for many families continues to be a factor. “The hard part for us is that we cannot meet the amount of financial need that we’d like,” she said, despite the generosity of various benefactors. “If we could provide more assistance than we do, we would not have any trouble filling our schools.”
Mrs Josephson said much help comes during the annual Catholic Schools appeal, as well as through Partners in Charity donations. The Adopt-a-Student program also offers assistance to students in need enrolled at the Central Catholic schools.
Even though the economy seems to have improved, Mrs Josephson pointed out that it will take some individual families, who’ve suffered during the downturn, longer to recover, as she said these people are often “the last ones to benefit from an economic revival.”
“We have a lot of families who are struggling,” she said, noting that they are “wonderful, wonderful families.”
Mrs Josephson said supporting Catholic education is a “mission of the entire Church.”
“We are grateful for the support we do receive,” she said.
She also pointed out that the educational standards in the diocesan Catholic schools, as evidenced by higher accreditation figures, are superior to what’s found in the public schools.