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Archdiocese’s Lighting the Way Schools Initiative Ready to Launch in July
The Archdiocese of Newark today announced that Lighting the Way, a strategic plan to ensure a strong and sustainable system of Catholic elementary schools within the Archdiocese, is moving forward in time for the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year.
Lighting the Way grew out of a study on the future of Archdiocesan elementary schools by The Catholic Education Commission, a group consisting of more than 30 Lay people, Clergy and Religious with expertise in education, parish management, marketing, finance and other fields. Their examination sought to take the best elements of Catholic elementary education – Catholic identity, local presence with strong participation by clergy and parents in the life of the school and its students, dedicated and knowledgeable faculty and administrators, and individualized attention and creativity – and add the efficiencies of coordinated administration, marketing and governance support.
Since the end of the study period in mid-2013 a team of Archdiocesan staff has worked to shape the recommendations of the Commission into a series of concrete action steps to be applied uniformly in all of the schools.
Under Lighting the Way a new entity, Archdiocesan Catholic Education Services (ACES), will work in partnership with pastors, principals and local school advisory boards. ACES will comprise representatives of the Archdiocesan Schools, Finance and Human Resources offices to bring today’s best practices and innovative ideas in Catholic education to all schools, as well as a consistent approach toward teaching great academics and the Catholic faith.
Sources of funding Catholic elementary education will be broadened under Lighting the Way. Beginning in July 2014 all parishes in the Archdiocese -- whether or not they sponsor a school – will participate jointly in financing the elementary schools within the Archdiocese. Individual schools will maintain and have control over all revenue, including general fundraising income that they generate throughout the year, as well as any funds specifically donated in support of a designated school.
It should be noted that the Archdiocese of Newark and its parishes have long supported Catholic schools even as the number of children attending has continued to decline in recent decades. In 1999, for example, some 56,000 students attended the elementary and high schools of the Archdiocese; in 2013, only 32,000 attended. Yet in recent years, Catholic school financial support has reached an average of $15 million annually. Over the past decade, that financial support has totaled $145 million. Such strong Archdiocesan financial support, however, has not been sufficient to stem closures or consolidations, primarily because single concerted efforts like Lighting the Way had not been undertaken. Today, a majority of Archdiocesan elementary schools require financial support to meet the shortfall between operational expenses and revenue from the traditional sources of tuition, fundraising and donations. During the initial years of Lighting the Way’s implementation, as the marketing and enrollment programs of Lighting the Way begin to take hold, the Archdiocese will continue to provide high levels of financial support to all of the elementary schools.
New marketing initiatives at both the school and parish levels will encourage and spark enrollment so that the future of Catholic schools can be assured well into the future.
Progress to Date
Between December 2013 and early February 2014, pastors of each of the elementary schools affiliated with parishes in the Archdiocese signed and returned to the Archdiocese a management agreement that sets out the terms under which ACES will work to manage and operate schools under Lighting the Way in partnership with the pastor and the school’s
Advisory Committee. Archbishop John J. Myers acknowledged the agreements in late
February, thus enabling ACES to assume responsibility for managing the schools.
Beginning in January 2014, pastors began submitting the resumes of candidates for new School Advisory Boards that will be formed under Lighting the Way for each individual school to assist ACES and school administrators in areas five key areas – strategic planning, finance, facilities management, marketing and development.
These Boards will comprise parents, parishioners and others in the local community with an interest in maintaining and furthering the goals of Catholic elementary schools. Each member of a school’s Advisory Board shares responsibility for the five critical areas with which they are charged. Archbishop Myers currently is reviewing and approving the recommendations for these Advisory Boards, and ACES staff has begun hosting a series of county-based informational and training meetings for these members.
Work is also underway to form a special Advisory Board to assist in the strategic planning and operation of some 10 Catholic schools located in inner-city areas of the Archdiocese.
Because of the unique challenges facing urban Catholic schools, not the least of which are the challenges of charter schools and access to broad financial support from business and other sources, special individuals with the time, talent and treasure needed to assist these mission critical schools now and into the future are being sought for this particular Advisory Board.
Working with a well-known regional communications and marketing consultant, Erbach Communications, and with the New York City-based Catholic Alumni Partnership (CAP) and National Executive Service Corps (NESC) and other groups, ACES will be employing a series of new marketing/advertising, fundraising and alumni involvement campaigns to promote the Catholic elementary schools of the Archdiocese at both the regional and local levels. In addition, ACES will be providing all schools with a range of marketing tools and programs, as well as training for local school marketing representatives, to take advantage of all available avenues to increase awareness of individual schools to spur increases in enrollment.
In the area of curriculum development, the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese are implementing Curriculum Mapping, a best practices approach that actively involves all faculty members in the Archdiocese working together to coordinate and reinforce the key elements of subjects both across grades and in relation to other subjects, and to correlate learning among the grade levels.
Four Schools Set to Close
Unfortunately, four schools within the Archdiocese that have continued to experience chronic low enrollment and increasing financial needs will cease operating at the close of this current school year in June, despite receiving more than $10 million in direct subsidies from the Archdiocese and the schools’ sponsoring parishes over the past two decades.
St. Agnes School, Clark, announced to its parents and students in January that it would no longer operate after the end of the current school year. The parish has provided a total of $4.2 million in subsidy to the school since 1990 even as enrollment has dropped
steadily. The number of students in grades K-8 has dropped from 211 in 1996 to 89 in 2014. With an average annual subsidy of some $300,000, the school would have depleted reserve funds of St. Agnes Parish in approximately four years.
Ss. Mary and Elizabeth School in Linden, a school created in 2004 by the merger of several other Union County schools, has received some $2 million in direct subsidy from the Archdiocese since its inception. Enrollment has declined from 240 students in 2004 to 131 students in 2014 in grades K – 8, despite various marketing programs and changes in leadership.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus School, Wallington, has declined in enrollment from a high of 185 in 2011 to 155 in 2014 in grades K-8, despite significant outreach and marketing efforts by the parish and school administration. The Archdiocese has provided more than $3.2 million in direct financial subsidy to this school since 2001.
Blessed Pope John XXIII Academy, West Orange, which was formed in 2007 as a merger of two parish schools in West Orange, has been challenged by low enrollment for its entire life, reaching a high of 204 students in grades K-8 only in 2012. Its general enrollment has been in the area of 160, which it currently has in 2014. The sponsoring parishes and the Archdiocese have provided a total of $750,000 in direct subsidy since 2007 and it is expected to need an annual subsidy of at least $250,000 in the current year.
In commenting on these latest developments of the Lighting the Way initiative, Margaret D. Dames, Ed.D., Secretary of Catholic Education and Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese, stated: “The steps we are taking today under Lighting the Way will provide a firm grounding for all of our participating schools – a new start in coordinated administration and curriculum development, more concentrated marketing and enrollment management, and greater financial management and support – that will be a basis for each to become sustainable now and into the future.
“The Archdiocese is continuing its commitment to supporting Catholic elementary schools financially, and we expect that this support will grow in the coming years as more parishes begin supporting this vital ministry of the Church.”
Dr. Dames commented further that, “training and new membership for our parent volunteers on our School Advisory Boards, and more direct support to our principals and faculties from our ACES staff, will give our schools a new sense of vitality as we implement programs such as Curriculum Mapping. And, most important, the partnership that we are creating with our local pastors and other clergy will afford them the opportunity to shape the daily operation of the school, and to concentrate on their role as the spiritual advisor and representative of the Archbishop to the students and the entire school community.”
In addressing the subject of necessary school closures, Dr. Dames said, “This is a truly sad moment for the children, families and communities that these schools have served through the years. We know that each school sought to fill a critical need in its community for an
excellent education choice. While we have been able to make some great strides in creating positive change for the majority of schools that the Catholic Education Commission had identified as in difficulty, these few schools that will close would not have been able to meet the standards that Lighting the Way needs to set for excellent schools.
“In the coming weeks,” Dr. Dames said, “we will be working with the administrations of these schools and with parents to transition each student to other Catholic schools so that they can continue to receive a Catholic education and benefit from the steps we are taking under Lighting the Way.”
More information about Lighting the Way, including the recommendations of The Catholic Education Commission, is available on the Archdiocese of Newark’s Education Ministry website athttp://www.catholicschoolsnj.org/csnj/side2/Lighting%20the%20Way/.