For 10 years she had been a teacher, then assistant principal at Sacred Heart, a pre-K through eighth grade parochial school in the Highbridge section of the Bronx.
Today, enrollment in Catholic schools hovers around 1.8 million.
Adding fresh urgency to this challenge is the sharp decline in elementary enrollment just within the past decade.
Driving this shift toward more collaborative styles of decision-making is a twofold recognition.
First, with a limited number of new ordinations, priests need to focus on the church’s sacramental life; and second, schools benefit from the specialized skills lay leaders can offer.“The church can no longer do it,” said Christine Healey, president of the Healey Education Foundation, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides training and funding to Catholic schools.
All this spelled trouble: declining enrollment and rising costs.
Despite the odds, some schools pulled through—even thrived—but the trend was clear: From 1966 to 2014, the number of Catholic schools was cut in half.(Photo: Authenticated News/Archive Photos/Getty Images)By 1960, nationwide enrollment in Catholic schools had peaked, with more than 5.2 million students.“Then change roared across the nation,” the Catholic education experts Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson write in “Catholic School Renaissance,” their 2015 report for the Philanthropy Roundtable.In a crisis, she could call the diocesan superintendent or make a “mayday” call to a nearby principal, but for the most part, “the expectation was that you would figure stuff out on your own.”Multiply stories like Ms. Uhl belongs to a movement of administrators, philanthropists, diocesan leaders and education experts who are rethinking the parochial, or parish-based, model of Catholic education. But today Catholic schools are shifting some of that authority from pastors and principals to other sources. Uhl and his colleagues, these changes let principals focus on coaching teachers, free up pastors to focus on the school’s spiritual life, offer the laity more robust opportunities for leadership, and—crucially—ensure that Catholic schools maximize educational quality and financial sustainability.Akano’s across the United States and you are looking at one of the major challenges Catholic primary education currently faces: Running a parish school has become too much for one pastor and one principal to handle.“For so long, we’ve held up independence and site-based management as the hallmarks of good Catholic schools,” said Tim Uhl, who is superintendent of Montana Catholic schools and host of the podcast, newsletter and blog “Catholic School Matters.” “But what we’re seeing today is that leaving someone alone to run their school and saying, ‘All the best! These alternative models—and there are many—do not offer a single vision for the future of Catholic schools.The theme for National Catholic Schools Week 2019 is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Through these events, schools focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our church, our communities and our nation.Abigail Akano was not sure she wanted to be principal.She rarely visited classrooms except to tally up data points for various forms she needed to complete.She knew it was not an efficient way to run a school, but there was no time to think of a better system. Mary’s School, providing the high-level, big-picture decisions about mission and vision and money, and often hiring a principal to implement day-to-day school management.Francis has been a beacon of hope to people here for many years. Justifiably fearing that public schools aimed to Americanize (read: Protestant-ize) Catholic children, U. bishops wrote increasingly stern pastoral letters that culminated in a letter issued in 1884 by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore: “Pastors and parents should not rest,” insisted the bishops, until every parish “has schools adequate to the needs of its children.”St Mary of the Lake School in Chicago, Il., circa 1960.By 1960, nationwide enrollment in Catholic schools had peaked, with more than 5.2 million students.