Catholic Herald staff
An effort to boost visibility in the community has more than paid off for one diocesan Catholic school.
Four years ago, St. Francis de Sales School, Spooner, had an enrollment of only 66 students. This year, 118 students fill the school’s P-K3 through eighth-grade classrooms.
Due to the increased enrollment, the school is switching to single-grade classrooms for kindergarten through fourth grade. They’ve also hired two teachers, said Kathy Kurkiewicz, principal since 2011.
“Our enrollment has been building from the bottom up since I took over as principal, and we are continuing to work on both retention and recruitment,” she added. “We also did several remodel jobs over the summer to make room for our growing student population. We are currently at a point that we are exploring other options for increasing our space as we move forward.”
The effort to augment the school’s presence in the community has included service projects for community improvement, representation at Chamber of Commerce meetings, presence at community celebrations and more.
“We are roughly 30 percent non-Catholic at this point,” Kurkiewicz added. “I attribute the growth to a great deal of hard work to become a more visible part of the community, to improve our image and to market our school as a viable option for many families, regardless of whether they are Catholic or not.
“We stress our family-like atmosphere and the fact that we educate the whole child,” she continued. “We have had a number of new families move to the area or move back to the area – a number of our new students are children of alumni.”
The enrollment climb went from 66 in 2012-13, to 68 in 2013-14; 71 in 2014-15; and 106 in 2015-16.
Kurkiewicz doesn’t believe economic growth is a factor in the school’s success.
“It is a very poor area,” she observed. “The people moving here are kind of unique, coming back to help with older parents, some for jobs – very specific reasons.”
Other schools that can celebrate 2016-17 enrollment boosts include St. Mary, Tomahawk, which has 14 percent more students than last year, and Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland, which has gained a number of students as it begins its first year in the state’s Parental Choice voucher program — the first school in the diocese to do so.
St. Joseph School, Rice Lake, is maintaining a full house, said principal Jerry Van Dyke.
“St. Joseph School enrollment continues to be strong, with 190 students enrolled in P-K3 through eighth grade,” he said. “We are at capacity and have waiting lists in P-K3, P-K4, and Kindergarten.”
Other Catholic schools in the diocese can offer their students more advanced technology this year.
“We purchased and installed three new SmartBoards,” said principal Tami Stewart, Our Lady of Sorrows, Ladysmith. Grant money and fundraising covered the cost.
Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland, is celebrating the opportunity for students to learn a foreign language. The Ashland Community Foundation and a private donor paid for materials and software costs for all students in grades K-8 to take online classes.
Although Our Lady of the Lake has not enrolled any students in the diocese’s virtual/online blended high school program this year, St. Francis Solanus, Reserve, has two students taking advantage of the opportunity through Regis High School, Eau Claire. The students are in third and sixth grade, said Franciscan Sr. Felissa Zander, principal.
“It’s another educational adventure!” she added.
Most schools, including St. Anne, Somerset; Cathedral School, Superior; St. Bridget, River Falls; St. Joseph, Rice Lake; St. Mary, Tomahawk; St. Anthony of Padua, Park Falls; and Holy Rosary, Medford, have new staff — principals, teachers or both.
Other schools launching programs this year, include Holy Rosary, Medford, where they are using the Power of Positive Words
St. Bridget, River Falls, kicked off classes with a new event, “Tears, Cheers & Prayers.” On the first day of school, parents and grandparents were invited to mingle and join the parish pastor, Fr. Jerry Harris, for a back-to-school prayer.
St. Mary, New Richmond, and St. Patrick, Hudson paired up for a staff retreat.
“On Aug. 24, the combined church, school, and C.F. staffs of Immaculate Conception, St. Patrick’s of Erin Prairie, St. Mary School of New Richmond and St. Patrick’s Parish in Hudson came together for a retreat,” said St. Mary principal Laura Jo Jarchow. “Speaker Rich Kern presented, lunch was shared, and day ended in Mass.”
St. Francis, Merrill, is developing a new logo this year, and Nativity of Our Lord, Rhinelander, recently received a check for nearly $6,000 from the local Knights of Columbus council to dedicate to tuition assistance.
St. Anthony of Padua, Park Falls, is open for the 2016-17 school year, an accomplishment for the struggling school. Although St. Anthony was expected to join the state’s Parental Choice voucher program, the school’s debt prevented inclusion, according to officials in the Diocese of Superior chancery.
Kathy Rominski, one of two lead teachers at St. Anthony, said the school’s enrollment is at 74 students.
According to Rominski, the library is being remodeled, and they’ve found a creative way around the costs and restrictions of hosting an in-house lunch program – Kountry Kafe, a restaurant in Fifield, is catering lunches.
“She doesn’t have to deal with the state from a school point,” Rominski said of the owner, whose kitchen is already licensed. “Everything is homemade, phenomenal salad bar,” she added. “The kids love it.”