June 23, 2014 // Local

ACE study concludes junior-senior high school not feasible at this time

By Mark Weber

FORT WAYNE — Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has accepted a recommendation by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Consulting feasibility study to forgo a new junior-senior Catholic high school in the central part of the diocese.

In an executive summary, it was noted, “it is the point of view of ACE Consulting that the central region of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend does not currently possess the density of population and some of the essential attributes necessary to establish a new 7-12 Catholic school that operates on a traditional model.”

The report added, “We do not, however, believe that such an opportunity is permanently inaccessible.”

Bishop Rhoades told Today’s Catholic, “I am grateful to all who participated in the feasibility study. While I had hoped that the proposed Catholic junior-senior high school in the central area of our diocese would be feasible, I think that the recommendations arising from the study will be very helpful for the future.”

Bishop Rhoades added, “I think there must be more efforts to reach out to the large number of Hispanic families in the area with school-age children about the opportunities of Catholic education.”

Bishop Rhoades had requested that ACE Consulting, based at the University of Notre Dame, provide recommendations as to the feasibility of opening a junior-senior high school in the greater Warsaw or Goshen area. ACE conducted the study between August 2013 and March 2014.

“The parish and school families provided considerable breadth and depth to the feasibility study,” said Holy Cross Father Thomas Doyle, who led the study for ACE Consulting. “Families with students in Catholic schools as well as families without children in Catholic schools generously participated in focus groups that explored their perceptions, experience and priorities for Catholic education.”

In addition, Father Doyle said more than 300 families responded to a comprehensive on-line survey. “The families were passionate about Catholic education and both their spoken and written contributions were honest, insightful, sober and hope-filled,” he said.

“Our interviews and focus groups revealed a number of parents and community leaders who are true champions of Catholic education,” Father Doyle said. “The presence of these kinds of leaders will serve to galvanize the community and necessary support when there exists a sufficient number of families and students who are willing to capitalize on the extraordinary education and opportunities provided by a Catholic education.”

“The pastors interviewed from the 12 parishes in the region are deeply committed to Catholic education,” Father Doyle said. “They expressed consistent willingness to ensure that families have access to excellent Catholic education.”

Father Doyle said the parishes with Catholic schools are providing substantial financial support to their schools and making them affordable and accessible to private paying as well as school voucher paying families.

Father Doyle also noted the Catholic school principals are ensuring that their schools are providing an excellent education for students, and the parents at Catholic schools are pleased with the education that their children are receiving. Principals are actively encouraging and recruiting students and families into their schools.

The report noted, “However, all of the pastors expressed skepticism about the likelihood of their parish providing financial support to the school. A review of the parish income statements by ACE Consulting confirms that, for the most part, the parishes’ annual operating budgets did not produce material surpluses of net income.”

The principals and the pastors identified the two most significant challenges for a new school were location and cost.

The public high schools in the central part of the diocese have their own strong and separate identity.

The report said, “Some interviewees admitted that, even if a Catholic high school were nearby, choosing not to be a part of the local public high school, particularly with regard to sports and extracurricular activities, would be a difficult decision to make.”

The traditional small Catholic high school, the report said, serves grades 9-12 and operates at a scale of efficiency when it enrolls approximately 100 to 125 students per class, for a total of 450 students. The report said a school serving grades 7-12 “tends to be most efficient and effective with an enrollment of 500-700 students.”

ACE Consulting’s “best estimate suggest that a new school located in the central part of the diocese will initially yield approximately 40-65 students per class.”

Father Doyle said the low population density and wide geographical dispersion added the expense and travel time of student transportation. Busing students for regular school hours as well as for after school activities was calculated as part of the feasibility.

“The most vibrant Catholic schools provide an educational environment with a robust Catholic culture and strong curriculum in a learning community that prepares graduates to live and lead in a nation marked by significant diversity,” Father Doyle said. “School choice vouchers help to ensure access and economic diversity in our Catholic schools.”

“Trends of families utilizing the school vouchers were calculated in the feasibility study,” Father Doyle said. “One of best predictors of attendance in Catholic middle and high school is enrollment in Catholic primary school and participation in parish religious education. Currently some of the parish schools have capacity for additional students, which suggests that both private paying and voucher paying families are not yet taking full advantage of the excellent Catholic schools in the diocese.”

“As the current Catholic schools fill their classes with private paying and school voucher paying students, it will reveal the readiness of the region for a Catholic middle and high school,” Father Doyle added. “Additionally, continued and expanded vibrancy in parish religious education will serve as natural feeders to a Catholic middle and high school.”

“Even with the benefit of school choice vouchers and transportation, it did not appear that, at this time, sufficient numbers of students would enroll to create the appropriate social context and economic scale for an excellent Catholic middle and high school,” Father Doyle said.

“The conclusion of our feasibility study was that the central region of the diocese was not yet positioned for a Catholic middle and high school,” Father Doyle said, but offered, “There were a number of factors that suggest a thriving Catholic middle and high school could be established in the not-too-distant future.”

He concluded, “Ultimately, when a critical mass of parents make the faith-filled decision and sacrifices to provide their children with a Catholic education, a Catholic middle and high school will rise and provide the community, and generations of students, the extraordinary benefits of Catholic education.”

Father Doyle said, “Our study suggests that it is not feasible at this time, but it is a real possibility within the community’s reach.”

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