East Dubuque School Begins Three-Year Viability Plan
By Observer Staff
May 11, 2017

EAST DUBUQUE—In January of this year, parents of St. Mary School students here were presented with grim realities  forcing a decision to close their school.

After that meeting and a passionate outcry from parents and area Catholics, Father Dean Smith, pastor of St. Mary’s and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Menominee worked with diocesan officials to develop a plan to keep the school viable and open.

Now, four months later, the St. Mary parents, parishioners at St. Mary Parish and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Menominee are all working toward not only keeping  the school open but also growing the school to a new future.

During a meeting at the school May 2, the Diocese of Rockford announced it would give the school and parishes three years to work on their recruitment and financial plan.

Michael Kagan, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Rockford, along with Tom Heding of Meitler, a Milwaukee consulting firm, and Penny Wiegert, diocesan director of communication, met with about 70 parents and parishioners in the St. Mary School gym. They reviewed a variety of information and the criteria required by the diocese to keep the school open and viable. That criteria included:

n Raising $100,000 per year (or whatever amount is necessary to keep the parish subsidy of the school at no more than 30 percent of ordinary income);

n Maintaining current levels of weekly parish ordinary income;

n Meet the annual parish target for the Diocesan Appeal;

n Increasing tuition by $400 (to $2,300) for the 2018-19 school year and at least $100 per year in the subsequent years. Tuition at St. Mary School is $1,900 and is the lowest in the Rockford Diocese.

n Increasing enrollment by at least 10 percent per year, which is five students in the first year.

Kagan explained to parents that the Rockford Diocese will assist the school in raising enrollment by providing marketing ideas, materials, and training for the school and parish.

During the meeting, Heding presented demographic figures, data on Catholic and  parish population and trends, along with financial data collected during the diocesan strategic planning process for schools.

St. Mary Principal Angela Jones reported on what the school and parents have accomplished since January and the course they have set for meeting the goals set by the diocesan administration.

Jones said in the effort to raise $100,000 by June 30, people have pledged $71,000 and $50,000 has been collected. The Marching Forward Gala raised $58,000, which brings the amount collected since January to more than $100,000. She also said parish income since January, as reported in the weekly bulletin has remained stable.

For the 2017-18 school year 50 students are already registered for kindergarten through  eighth grade and five for preschool. (There are also 13 homeschool students attending some classes, but they are not full-time tuition students.) are also 13 homeschool students attending some classes, but they are not full-time tuition students) She explained that volunteers from the school and parish community, have begun marketing efforts Jones said to increase enrollment.  The school has formed an M4-100 Campaign. which means the school is “marching forward” to get 100 Benefactors, $100,000, 100 Students and are looking toward, and preparing for, their 100th anniversary in 2024.

The school parents have also formed two sub committees for finance and marketing. The finance committee for the M4-100 Campaign is working with the St. Mary’s Parish council to review accounting procedures and the assignment of revenue and expenses, Jones reported.

The marketing committee has prepared brochures for both recruiting students and for the M4-100 campaign and is working on a distribution plan for those materials.
Jones said

“I am very impressed at the commitment and the progress of the parents and parishioners,” said Kagan. “There are certainly a lot of challenges, but there is also a lot of passion on the part of the parents and school staff.”

“Natalie Berning, a school parent and parishioner at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Menominee said the last three months have been “very difficult and challenging” but have also brought forth some unexpected benefits.

“Through this whole process we’ve been able to build relationships with parents and parishioners I didn’t know and discovered skills and talents the other parents and parishioners had that I didn’t even know they had and (discovered) the passion that we all have and share that has brought us all together.  It’s been incredible,” she said.

Berning explained how the parents have been working with people from both parishes on marketing and fundraising and even though it has been difficult, they all support each other.

“We’ve all found that when one of us gets down, we’ll get an email from someone who’s working on something else that brings our enthusiasm, our passion and our drive up to keep working hard to keep going,” Berning said.

Berning said the whole experience of working to keep the school open has definitely helped her faith.
Father Smith said the parishes will continue working together and will be forming a new school commission.

Father Smith and the diocesan education office will also continue to work together in periodic monitoring of the goals and progress at the school.