January 28, 2011

2011 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

Catholic schools learn marketing, development skills in program

Phoebe Grote, left Bailey Lare, Aimee Corbin and Eric Frede, students at Pope John XXIII School in Madison, have fun on the school’s playground in this file photo from September 2009. (Submitted photo)

Phoebe Grote, left Bailey Lare, Aimee Corbin and Eric Frede, students at Pope John XXIII School in Madison, have fun on the school’s playground in this file photo from September 2009. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Sheila Noon has worked at St. Anthony of Padua School in Clarksville for nearly 40 years—35 as a teacher and the last four as its principal.

For much of that time, the school looked primarily to families in the parish for its students. But in the last two years, Noon says, the school has thrown out a wider net to attract students from beyond Clarksville.

“In the past, it was the kids from the parish that came to the school,” Noon said. “Now … we’re involving many more people. We’re trying to make our school more visible. We’re getting our name out there a lot more.”

The St. Anthony School community has made these changes through its participation in the Strategic Management and Development Program (SMDP).

This four-year program, which is sponsored by the archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Education (OCE), brings in consultants from Catholic School Management Inc., a firm that has helped Catholic schools across the country for more than 30 years to improve all areas of their school life and operations, including development and finance.

Staff members from OCE and the archdiocese’s Office of Stewardship and Development have also assisted the schools in the program, which is funded in a partnership between the schools and the archdiocese.

Currently, 15 schools across the archdiocese are in the middle of the second year of the program.

In it, they review or create foundational documents, such as mission and vision statements and a graduate profile, and develop strategies to increase enrollment and improve fundraising through annual funds, relations with alumni and planned giving.

These are strategies that Catholic high schools in the archdiocese have followed for a decade or more, but which are new to many grade schools.

“These are things that we thought about but [had concluded] that we couldn’t do it,” Noon said. “But our consultant said that we’ve got to let go and say, ‘We’re going to do this.’ ”

And do it they have. St. Anthony School is now being promoted through a regular newsletter. A DVD showing the school’s successes is also being developed. Noon also said that more members of St. Anthony of Padua Parish are volunteering in the school since it started SMDP.

“I’m hoping not only that it helps to increase our enrollment, but that it makes us stronger as a faith-filled family,” Noon said. “I think those things will happen if we continue to do our strategic management.”

Harry Plummer, the executive director of the archdiocese’s Secretariat for Catholic Education and Faith Formation, said that strategic planning is critical for Catholic schools to remain strong in future years.

“This is a very challenging time for Catholic schools, not only in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis but across the United States,” he said. “[Strategic planning] will become even more important if the educational reforms around ‘parent choice’ being proposed by Gov. Mitch Daniels are passed.

“The bottom line is that all Catholic schools should have strategic plans which include interventions and strategies as to how to sustain economic viability.”

Other grade schools in the archdiocese have already sought new strategies to increase enrollment and the visibility of the school in the broader community, but are participating in SMDP to take their efforts to the next level.

Philip Kahn began his work as the president of Pope John XXIII School and Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison, which together make up Prince of Peace Schools, when that community began its participation in SMDP.

Kahn came to work at Prince of Peace Schools after working in marketing at the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. He was impressed by the promotional strategies that the Catholic School Management consultant recommended.

“Some of the marketing ideas that CSM has come up with for a school environment have really, really helped us,” Kahn said. “It’s gotten the word out better in our community. People are more aware of what’s going on at our schools whether they send their kids here or not—whether it’s our graduation rate or academics or test scores.”

Kahn also appreciates the work that the consultants have done to learn about the specific challenges and opportunities of Catholic education in central and southern Indiana.

“You can tell that they’ve done some pre-work … to kind of understand the schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” he said. “So it’s been nice because it’s been tailored just for our area. If we were to fly to New York or Arizona or wherever and go to a seminar, it’s going to be pretty much a cookie-cutter approach.”

Rita Parsons is interested in how to promote Catholic education in a very particular region—the east side of Indianapolis where she serves as the principal of Holy Spirit School.

About seven years ago, Holy Spirit began appealing for financial support for the school in its annual fund. Parsons sees SMDP as a way to increase those efforts.

“It’s taking us to the next level,” Parsons said. “We know that we have to start creating a database with our alumni. We have to bring them back and show them the wonderful school that still is on the east side of Indianapolis.”

Learning how to broaden her school’s community is challenging for Parsons because that wasn’t part of her training as an educator. SMDP is helping her and other people in the Holy Spirit community to share their good news more broadly and to increase it by allowing more families to enroll their children there.

“It’s very exciting because we know that you can’t continue to increase tuition by 6, 7, 8 or 10 percent every year,” Parsons said. “If we can build our annual fund and our development programs and seek more resources financially, we’ll be able to offer more tuition assistance.

“That’s the big key. We want to be able to offer Catholic education to all of our Catholic families.” †

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