The Diocese of Toledo wants to hear from as many metro-Toledo Catholics as possible about the future of the area's Catholic elementary schools.
The first town hall meeting on the topic was held Wednesday night at St. Ursula Academy with three more to follow: 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle, Maumee; 7 p.m. Wednesday at Notre Dame Academy, 3535 Sylvania Ave., and 7 p.m. April 25, also at Notre Dame.
"We encourage the entire Catholic community to please participate and share with us their thoughts and ideas about Catholic education — and not just the people in our schools," Christopher Knight, superintendent of Catholic schools, said. "We need to hear from people who aren't in our schools. We need to hear from grandparents. We need to hear from younger families who don't have children in school yet."
The public meetings are part of a process begun last summer when Bishop Leonard Blair called for the creation of a task force to fashion a plan "to ensure that K-8 Catholic education in metro Toledo is sustainable and viable for the future," Mr. Knight said. The schools have been hit with declining enrollment, rising costs, and increasing competition from charter schools and other educational alternatives.
K-12 enrollment in Catholic schools in the 19-county diocese has dropped from more than 35,000 three decades ago to 18,595 this year.
"We want our schools to be able to maximize the resources they have and to have more resources to provide the programming they want to have," Mr. Knight said. "If we can find ways to combine our resources and strengthen our programs for the benefits of students and families, certainly we're going to look at that."
He pointed to models such as Oregon's Kateri Catholic School System, which consolidated three east side elementary schools at the Cardinal Stritch High School campus, which is now home to an elementary, middle, and high school. Starting this school year, Little Flower and Our Lady of Lourdes elementaries pooled their students and resources by creating the St. Benedict School in southwest Toledo.
While metro-Toledo Catholic schools traditionally have been a ministry of the parish where they're housed, Mr. Knight said the task force believes the schools ought to be "a community ministry" with broader sources of funding, collaboration, and unified marketing and communication.
"Ultimately we hope to enhance the educational choices that our families have," Mr. Knight said.
In addition to the public meetings, the diocesan task force is asking area residents to complete an online survey at toledocatholicschool surveys.com. The survey asks questions about the perceived benefits to and challenges facing Catholic elementary schools; possible changes in school configurations, including creating stand-alone middle schools or middle schools linked to high school campuses, and willingness to send children to a Catholic school that's not located on their parish campus.
Both St. John's Jesuit High School and Notre Dame Academy have added academies for seventh and eighth graders in recent years, and St. John's is hoping to expand its enrollment to sixth grade boys next year.
St. Ursula Academy recently sent out "middle school interest forms" to parents of elementary students in an attempt to gauge support for adding a middle school at the all-girls high school.
Mr. Knight said though no changes will be made at parish-based elementary schools for the 2011-12 school year, Bishop Blair is expected to decide later this spring on St. John's request to add sixth grade.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.