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Catholic Central School wins national award

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

SPRINGFIELD DEANERY — Catholic Central School has been chosen as one of 12 schools in the nation to receive the Catholic Schools for Tomorrow Award for Innovations in Education. The award annually honors the top Catholic schools in the United States that have led the way in innovation through implementing exemplary programs to improve the teaching and learning of their students, faculty and staff members.

While many Catholic schools across the United States have been faced with the unfortunate demise of closing their doors and leaving many families with few options for private, Christian-based education, Catholic Central is an exception.

Catholic Central School wins national award
Catholic Central School students and faculty celebrate national award. (Courtesy photo)

“This award means that Catholic Central School is now recognized as a leader and a national role model in the consolidation and merging of schools,” said Jeanne Kunay, principal of Catholic Central Junior/Senior High School. “It is truly an honor for a Catholic school in Springfield, Ohio, to stand among 12 national recipients, the majority of which are located in much larger cities like Baltimore, MD; Louisville, KY; Phoenix, AR; and Macon, GA. We have been truly blessed.”

In 2004, enrollment in Springfield’s local and area parish feeder schools was at an all-time low.  The high school, which served as the anchor for students to complete their Catholic education mirrored its counterparts. Money was running out, and there were doubts as to whether staff would be compensated when payday came, or if there would be enough in the school’s bank account to pay the utility bills. Yet, in spite of what was happening at home, the school was named one of the Top 50 Catholic Schools in the nation by the Catholic High School Honor Roll.

The support for Catholic education was strong among the pastors, faculty and the many generations of Catholic families who had for so long been committed to following tradition, and who remained dedicated to the mission of saving Catholic education. As volunteers and selected representatives gathered around the tables burning midnight oil on many nights, there was a glimmer of hope that ignited a renewal of faith among those who had come together to seek out a solution before the doors shut one by one on the five existing parish schools. Consolidation was the answer — or at least — worth a try.

In 2005, the parish schools of St. Teresa’s, St. Mary’s, St. Bernard’s, St. Raphael’s, and St. Joseph’s (with the latter three already combined into a merger called Holy Trinity a few years earlier) made the decision to consolidate. The result was a combination of three elementary campuses that served children in pre-k though grade six; and one combined junior/senior high school that housed seventh through twelfth grade.

To further the consolidation process, the Urbana parish school of St. Mary’s was closed in 2008 and families who chose to continue educating their children at Catholic Central were offered a transportation stipend to ease the financial burden associated with gasoline costs for the 35 mile roundtrip to Springfield. As a result, retention was far better than expected.

A keen business manager, a strong administrative team at the helm, the reorganization of a development office, and a strategic plan implemented across the remaining campuses that focused on retention and recruitment, all played a primary role in a merger that few believed would be successful. With the elementary schools combined to two campuses and one for the junior/senior high school, students and families realized that there were now more opportunities available to them in the areas of academics and athletics.

Instead of declining enrollment, school officials began to notice a trend. Families who retreated to other schools in the midst of the first year transition began to return. As word spread that the school’s focus remained committed to college preparatory work and post secondary education and that advanced placement courses had been added, the strength of the academic programs offered at Catholic Central was proven one student at a time.

“During this process, it became apparent to the Catholic community and to the archdiocese that there was a significant truth in the meaning of the word ‘unity’ at Catholic Central School,” said Kunay. “We knew that Catholic schools work and have worked for a long time,”but there was an unspoken need to revive the Catholic identity and reaffirm the educational value that comes with a faith-based foundation. So, that is what we did.”

Parents in the community began to apply for the Ohio EdChoice Scholarship that meant the State of Ohio would pay for children assigned to these underperforming schools to attend a private school. Catholic Central appointed a staff person to manage the front line of this process, and put stringent guidelines in place for admission. As a result, enrollment has grown 11.2% over the past four years, and many Catholic parishioners, who likely could not afford the tuition costs with multiple children, are now part of the Catholic Central family.

Though Catholic Central is one of the more affordable Catholic schools in the region, the downturn in this heavily manufacturing-based community has taken its toll on family finances. The Catholic parishes within the community have rallied behind the school and agreed to provide parish support for their parishioners. Tuition assistance, raised through the school’s Annual Fund and various fundraisers, is provided to more than one-third of all Catholic Central students.

One primary indicator of the school’s stability is the remarkable accomplishment of balancing the budget for six consecutive years.  As enrollment continues to climb to more than 820 students, there is now a space issue to address. With the schools bursting at the seams, the elementary principal has moved her office to a former closet space, and the junior/senior high school has combined rooms so that two teachers share a classroom at different times throughout the day.

Most recently, the Catholic Central School Board hired a President to oversee the growing demands associated with increased enrollment. This move again puts Catholic Central School on the cutting edge of education with a national president/principal model that will allow the principals to devote more time to curriculum and academic development.

The success of the consolidation can also been seen in the accomplishments of the students. The school implemented an intervention program called Success Central which assists many students with tutoring and other special services in targeted academic areas.  

With a 100 percent graduation rate for the past four years, significantly higher test scores on national standardized tests than students in public schools, and a recently named National Merit Scholar, Catholic Central has successfully achieved unified consolidation without sacrificing a solid academic foundation deeply rooted in the Catholic faith.

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