The presidents of local Catholic high schools were reacting favorably to Tuesday’s announcement that an independent entity will take over management of the archdiocesan system.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput traveled to St. Hubert High School to sign the agreement with Ed Hanway, former head of CIGNA Corp. and chairman of the Faith in the Future Foundation.
Faith in the Future, a non-profit run by lay leaders, was created in February, when Chaput announced that St. Hubert and three other high schools slated to be closed would remain open because of significant financial donations and commitments.
In subsequent talks, both sides agreed that Faith in the Future should assume strategic and operational management of 17 high schools and four schools of special education. It’s the first such agreement between a diocese and lay leadership in the country.
Chaput called it a “historic” day and a “bold step forward” for Catholic secondary education. “We hope that this model works,” he said.
Management changes hands on Sept. 1.
Elementary schools will continue to be operated by pastors and principals, although the foundation will seek to provide support to those schools.
The archdiocese and the foundation believe they are headed in the right direction. Registrations for ninth grade are at 106 percent of projections. The total overall freshman class is larger than the sophomore class.
“We’ve come very far since February,” Chaput said.
Still, challenges remain.
“We have made very good progress in that regard, but stabilizing enrollment is only the first step,” Hanway said.
The foundation will focus on major fundraising, enrollment management, marketing and cultivating best practices in leadership and education.
A series of initiatives will be introduced at selected schools. Little Flower, for instance, will be among six schools that will have guest instructors from China, who will teach Mandarin Chinese.
Hanway, who was a member of the blue ribbon commission that in January recommended that St. Hubert and the other three schools close, will serve as interim CEO of the foundation until a permanent leader is selected. He’ll stay on as chairman. A 15-member board will be established, with Chaput making five appointments and the foundation selecting the other 10 members.
Presidents and principals of schools will report to the Office of Catholic Education. The OCE will become a division of the foundation and will report to the foundation’s CEO.
The archdiocese will continue to own and operate all facilities and will negotiate contracts with the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776. Union boss Rita Schwartz was at the news conference, and is eager to take a look at the details of the new agreement.
There are more than 14,000 students in the archdiocese’s 17 Catholic high schools, but they have the capacity to handle double that enrollment.
“We are open for business,” Hanway said.
Chaput and Hanway are hopeful that businesses will continue to support the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit and embrace the new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit.
An outpouring of support has allowed the secondary school system to cut its deficit in half. Hanway wouldn’t specify what the current deficit is, but he called it “not significant.”
St. Hubert was selected to host the news conference, Hanway said, because of the large number of small donors who stepped forward when the school was on the chopping block.
The school has a new president, Frank Farrell, whose job is as tough as his 16 colleagues — bringing in students at a tuition of $5,850, not including fees.
Local schools seem to be doing well as the 2012-13 academic year approaches.
St. Hubert, an all-girls school, has 167 freshmen enrolled. Farrell credited the students and all other supporters with helping to save the school with rallies on the front steps and donations of all sizes. He thinks the foundation’s network of potential donors could increase tuition assistance.
“I’m ecstatic. It’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Archbishop Ryan, a co-ed school, has 360 freshmen signed up, which is higher than its projection.
Mike McArdle, the school president, deals with a budget that includes maintenance of 40 acres. He hopes that the foundation will supplement Ryan’s current recruitment efforts.
“We would have more kids if we had more tuition assistance,” he said.
Father Judge, an all-boys school, will welcome 250 freshmen.
The Rev. Joe Campellone, the school president, credits his powerful board with setting high goals and meeting them. Judge has secured more EITC donations than any other school and has been able to build athletic fields and an activities center, yet has no deficit.
Campellone believes the foundation can help make things even better at his school.
“It’s a welcome addition. I’m looking forward to it,” he said. ••