Faith Forward Data Presented to Parents Of Three Rockford Catholic Schools
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
March 16, 2017

ROCKFORD—About 170 parents gathered at Boylan Central Catholic High School here, March 8, for a meeting about specific data gathered as part of the Faith Forward strategic planning process for Catholic schools in the diocese.

The data shared by Tom Heding of the Meitler Consultants was specific to the Catholic schools at the Cathedral of St. Peter, St. Bernadette and St. James. Parents from these three schools were brought together to share ideas for future collaboration because of their close geographic proximity to each other — all are within a three-mile area — and because all three schools have experienced similar declines in enrollment and compete for the same pool of students through similar programs for kindergarten through eighth grade. Two of the schools, St. Bernadette and St. James, also currently have a pre-school program.

While the goals and strategies identified in the formal Faith Forward document are to be implemented in all diocesan Catholic elementary and high schools, some schools will face significant challenges in addressing those goals and strategies.

Cathedral of St. Peter School,
built in 1922 with addition of gym across the street at the parish in 1984
K-8 enrollment:
2006-2007 = 252
2016-2017 = 145

St. James Rockford,
originally built in 1968 addition in 2001
K-8 Enrollment:
2006-2007 = 225
2016-2017 = 120`

St. Bernadette Rockford,
built in 1957 with additions in 1959 and 1996
K-8 enrollment:
2006-2007 = 198
2016-2017 = 152

There are 477 empty seats in the combined enrollment of the three schools, meaning they are operating at 47 percent of their capacity.

The purpose of the meeting, similar to a meeting held with parents from Aurora schools facing almost identical challenges, was two-fold:

♦ To present a clear picture of the enrollment and finance data, and

♦ To ask parents of those schools to discuss together what the data tells them and ways they think their schools could collaborate for a stronger, more viable future.

In between the data and the small discussion groups, some parents spoke out wanting to know definitively whether or not their school would close.

Mike Kagan, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Rockford Diocese explained several times during the meeting that no decisions have been made to close or consolidate the three Rockford schools because “we have work to do first.”  He explained that developing a specific plan requires parent input and that the Rockford meeting, like the meetings in Aurora, McHenry and Elgin are all part of the planning and decision-making process.  

“We need to first present the data we have gathered so everyone involved in this process has an accurate picture of the challenge some of our parish schools are facing and to see what solutions are possible as remedy,” Kagan said.

The one thing that is certain, Kagan said, is that the time has come to “be proactive about the population trends in our communities and Churches and to explore the opportunities we have to create something better.”

Some parents expected to hear a final decision while others felt the meeting should have been an open forum for concerns and opinions. The meeting format was designed so parents could do exactly that--use the discussion time to focus on ideas, express concerns and to document all feedback. All the information shared at the meeting is being documented and will be used in upcoming gatherings that will help form a final plan for the three schools. The same meeting format was used in Aurora. All data presented and collected from these meetings will be posted on the diocesan website where visitors can click on the Faith Forward logo.

“Catholic Schools in the Rockford Diocese deliver a quality education within the context of an authentic Catholic identity. The Faith Forward process is to help us continue that mission despite the challenges we may face with trends, demographics and finances,” Kagan told The Observer.
The next Faith Forward data presentation will be for parents at St. Joseph, St. Lawrence, St. Mary and St. Thomas More Catholic Schools in Elgin, April 3 at 7 p.m. in St. Edward High School.