In Focus Blog

Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools Grow for First Time Since 1965 Excellence, Engagement and Energy Create Growth for Elementary Schools

Thursday, October 03, 2013

By Ryan Blackburn

For the first time since 1965, Catholic elementary school enrollment across the City of Chicago, suburban Cook and Lake counties is growing. Over the past four years, Catholic elementary schools in the City of Chicago have increased by over 1,300 students, and now enrollment in the 207 elementary schools across the Archdiocese is on the rise.

“It’s gratifying to see all the hard work in improving Catholic schools recognized in increased enrollment,” remarked Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago.

“For nearly 50 years there has been a story of declining student enrollment in our Catholic schools, and my hope in achieving this milestone of growth is to continue rewriting the script for our Catholic school families and our Church,” states Sr. M. Paul McCaughey, Superintendent of Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools. “Bringing faith, focus and achievement to more families is the result of a commitment to excellence, engagement and energy.”

Excellence

Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools continue demonstrating academic excellence in the classroom, which is a primary factor in families’ decisions to enroll in all schools. Several metrics attest to this excellence - attendance rates above 96%, high school graduation rate above 98%, and strong performance on standardized tests.

All Catholic school 3rd, 5th and 7th graders take the nationally-normed Terra Nova tests and their 2013 results outperformed the national percentile in every testing category. Seventh graders broke into the 80th percentile this Spring for the first time, and 206 of 207 schools score above the national average. Added to these results is a multi-year system focus around improving reading scores at the third grade level, and math scores at the seventh grade level.

On the ACT, the average for the 5,747 Catholic high school students who took the test in 2013 showed gains in nearly every testing area and in the composite score. The average composite score for Catholic high school students in the Archdiocese is 23.1; all scores continue to be well above the average for the State of Illinois and the Nation.

Continuous improvement of student achievement is a central objective of the recently released Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools and a major aspect of the case for supporting the $350 Million To Teach Who Christ Is Campaign.

“Preparing young people for college and for life is not just a mantra, it is a hard-working, prayerful reality in our Catholic elementary and high schools,” said Sr. Mary Paul. “While we are proud of the 2013 Terra Nova and ACT performance and other measures, the schools are positioned for continual improvement.”

Engagement

The growth that is now occurring begins with the leadership of school principals, working with their faculty, staff and enrollment teams. At each of the 207 Catholic elementary schools across the Archdiocese, a combination of Parent Ambassadors, pastors, board, committee and community members are focusing on engaging more and more families. There is a growing sense of the Catholic school value proposition of partnering with parents to help them raise children who are faith-filled, focused and achieving to the best of their abilities.

Caritas Scholarship

Beyond the school walls, a number of strategic support measures are gaining momentum in addressing affordability issues for families. Through the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Office of Catholic Schools is offering the Caritas Scholars program, a $2 million pilot financial aid initiative for Catholic school families. Created specifically to support families who share an appreciation for the benefits and values of a Catholic school education, but need financial assistance to make the dream a possibility, the Caritas scholarship provides up to 50 percent of a new student’s tuition. This pilot program is paving the way for the $150 million scholarship fund called for in the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign.

Cardinal's Emergency Fund

The Cardinal's Scholarship Fund provides immediate emergency assistance to parents that are struggling to keep their children in Catholic schools. In the brief history of the Fund, over 500 scholarships have been awarded.

Big Shoulders Access Scholarships

The Big Shoulders Fund provided additional Access Scholarships for Chicago Public School students who transition to one of the Catholic schools they support. This recent and appreciated commitment is in addition to the $12 to $14 million in annual support the Big Shoulders Fund provides to 90 Catholic schools in Chicago. Big Shoulders also assisted with marketing in many of the schools.

Through a higher level of engagement, both at the ground level and from external support, Catholic schools are focused on providing any family who seeks a Catholic education with opportunities to realize that vision for their children.

“We have seen extraordinary efforts on the part of families, parishes and donors who have contributed to these results, which are also made possible by the commitment of our school administrators, teachers and volunteers working with our students and families,” notes Sr. M. Paul.

Energy

As important as excellence and engagement are for this upswing, it is the combined energy of everyone that is bringing this grace forward. From the young parents who care deeply about where their child learns and grows to Cardinal George’s long term school commitment in seeing them as “centers of learning in a community of love.”

For Catholic schools from the Chain of Lakes of Northwest Lake County to those in Chicago’s Pilsen/Little Village and South of I-80 in Cook County, there has been intense work at the local levels, marked by a truly lively effort filled with deep welcome for all who are invested in the schools. For anyone interested in lending their support, The Teach Who Christ Is Campaign aims to continue the momentum and ensure that growth continues.

“I think growth is a grace,” says Sister Mary Paul, “We cooperate with God's grace in continuing to grow as students and as persons of service. Whether that's for the young people or the slightly older people who serve them, that's what energizes our schools. It's in the air.”

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