'Innovate or Die': Catholic Schools Take Drastic Measures to Boost Enrollment

For the first time ever, more kids are enrolled in charter schools than Catholic schools.
Catholic schools are experiencing low enrollment. Experts say they need to be more innovative or enrollment will continue to decline. (Photo: Washington Post/Getty Images)
Jul 30, 2012
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart.

Catholic school enrollment dropped by 25 percent from 2000 to 2011, and for the first time ever, more American children will be enrolled in charter schools than Catholic schools.

A new report from the Lexington Institute puts it bluntly: "For many leaders in Catholic education reform, the choice is clear: innovate or die." The report goes on to state that Catholic school leaders may want to learn a thing or two from charter school reformers about 'blended learning' and social support at a low cost.

Demographics have also come into play. "Only 3% of Hispanic parents send their children to Catholic schools despite being overwhelmingly Catholic."

One of the solutions, according to Domenico Pilato, who heads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' school marketing project, is that if Catholic schools want to survive, they must "think like a business."

The Associated Press reports on one school in particular that is taking their business and marketing strategy to a new level.

Our Lady of Lourdes, an East Los Angeles Catholic school, was down to just 35 students and on the brink of closure. In the 11th hour, a new principal, Cori Marasco, came in, gave the school a slight makeover, and used marketing tactics to recruit new students.

She is turning an auditorium into an indoor basketball court as part of her plan to make the school a community center. "The park is known for drive-by shootings so kids don't have a place to go," she said to the AP. "They can come here—and enroll in school, too."

Marasco wasn't afraid to knock on doors, recruit families who lost a bid in a charter school lottery, and offer kids X Boxes for convincing their friends to enroll. Because of her efforts, the school has remained open and 132 kids are registered for the 2012-2013 school year.

Other schools are following Marasco's lead, and according to Kevin Baxter, elementary superintendent of the Archodiocese of Los Angeles, "This is the first year we have not closed a school. People are seeing the value."

Do you or your kids go to Catholic school. Share your experience with the school in comments.

Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com

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