By Patricia O’Connell
WORCESTER – The results of a study being conducted on Catholic schools in the southern part of the diocese will be released next month, said Superintendent Delma Josephson.
She said the study will provide a clear view of “our current reality” to assist in future planning.
Findings from schools in the greater Worcester area, as well as the northern part of the diocese, will be available in the fall, she said.
The study is being done by the Wisconsin-based Meitler Consultants Inc., a firm that specializes in collecting and analyzing data from Catholic parishes and school systems.
Meitler, so far, has collected overall diocesan statistics, as well as data from individual schools. The company has also interviewed priests and school principals in the South County, according to a communication sheet issued by the school department. The report in June will include data from schools in Webster, Southbridge and Uxbridge.
The elementary schools in those communities are: St. Anne, parish school of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish; St. Joseph, parish school of St. Joseph Basilica; and St. Louis, parish school of St. Louis Parish, all in Webster; Trinity Catholic Academy, parish school of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Southbridge; and a regional school, Our Lady of the Valley in Uxbridge.
General input from the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission has also been sought by the firm.
Among the areas being considered are school enrollment figures, student demographics, finances, school enrollment capacity, in addition to parish enrollment and sacramental numbers.
“The data and the analysis will help make clear the issues Catholic schools have to face to be viable and thriving; and the analysis will sharpen our understanding of the strategic questions that need to be answered moving forward,” according to the communication sheet.
Initially, the focus was only going to be on South County schools. But the diocesan Catholic Schools Board recommended broadening the findings to include the entire diocese, Mrs. Josephson said.
She said long-range planning is impossible without good data.
She noted that, at this point, the focus is not on closing or consolidating any schools. Rather, it’s about “strategic planning.”
“It’s not about closing anything, it’s not about opening anything,” she added. “Who knows what will happen as a result of the data?”
Bishop McManus sent a letter to pastors and school administrators in February asking for their cooperation and stating that the findings would “help identify where future planning is necessary to sustain existing schools as well as where there is potential and need for future growth.”
Catholic schools throughout the United States have struggled with declining enrollment in recent years, which have led to closures.
During the 2002-2003 school year, there were 8,000 Catholic schools, according to the National Catholic Education Association. This year there are 6,685. Several elementary schools in the northern part of the diocese have closed within this time frame.
Mrs. Josephson said enrollment figures for the four Central Catholic schools, which includes three high schools and one elementary school, are “trending very close to last year.”
She said figures still need to be collected for the parochial schools. “I have no idea at this stage in the game about the individual parish schools,” she said. “It’s a little early.”