Five Schools Take a Closer Look at How They Survive and Thrive – Arkansas Catholic

Five Schools Take a Closer Look at How They Survive and Thrive – Arkansas Catholic

A four-year program that leads to new communication, recording, retention and marketing plans

Published: January 14, 2022

April Hanson Spivey

St. Teresa’s School Principal Kristi Dunn extends a hand to student Henry Vincente’s assistant teacher, Mira Warge, helping him guide him to the pickup line on January 6. Little Rock School participated in the Catholic School Management Program for four years to help with recruitment and branding for the school.

When six Catholic schools in Little Rock Parish began participating in a four-year program through Catholic School Management to improve school image, outreach, marketing and enrollment in 2018, they did not anticipate the sweeping changes in education spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it is the focused program dedicated to long-term goals and targeted approaches that has kept a firm foundation.

“Everything from our website to starting newsletters to upgrading the email program, the new student packages — it just took it all a bit,” said Kristi Dunn, principal of St. Teresa’s School in Little Rock.

Five schools benefited from the program: Saint Teresa; North Little Rock Catholic Academy and Mary Immaculate Heart School, both located in North Little Rock; St. John’s School in Hot Springs; and Sacred Heart School in Morelton.

“Everything from our website to starting newsletters to upgrading the email program, the new student packages — it just took it all a bit,” said Kristi Dunn, principal of St. Teresa’s School in Little Rock.

St. Edward’s School in Little Rock was also a participant but closed in May 2019, after 134 years of education. He emphasized how important a program focused on longevity and the bigger picture could be for schools.

The Catholic Episcopal Schools Office has selected schools that are eligible to participate. The grant required that the schools serve or could serve poor children.

The schools participated in a $105,000 grant from Catholic Extension intended to help schools in mission parishes. Over the four years, each school will contribute $10,500 in varying increments, with $141,000 covered by Catholic Extension and its partner Catholic school administration, which provided the chancellor.

CSM advisor Greg Dewitter visits the schools every two months, which has centered around bring-up meetings during the height of the pandemic. They have worked with school administrators, school boards, volunteers, and other administrators. Each meeting was attended by a leader from the Diocese Schools Office.

While every school is required by the Arkansas Non-Public School Accreditation Association to have a strategic plan, CSM has helped form achievable goals.

“Although we always told schools, ‘Look at your mission statement, make sure who you really are,'” but it’s really a process of how to evaluate a mission statement, and even kind of start over at some point, said Theresa Hall, principal of the schools. What do we do and who do we serve?” and “What sets us apart from any other private school or any other Catholic school?”

Dunn said school leaders are now able to explain why their school stands out in “elevator speech” — as well as in four great things to share with someone in a short get-together.

“We had what we could feel as a dead document. It’s in a binder on a shelf. We needed some guidance on how to make it a living document; how could it really be a plan? It sounds very cliched when I say it, but we’re used to writing it and making it sit there.” and collects dust,” Dunn said of their strategic plan.

The school now has quarterly goals focused on faith formation, finance, academics, administration, buildings, etc. Assistant Principal Jasmine Gonzalez has taken the lead in the quarterly bilingual newsletters.

Because the program involved more than a principal, it gave smaller principals a chance to see how others could be a part of the growth, versus having the school’s fate entirely in their own hands.

“I always felt like the responsibility stopped here,” said Dennis Troutman, principal of North Little Rock Catholic Academy. “I didn’t want to give up control, but when I could, it gave me freedom because I’m not responsible for it.”

Troutman is still involved, but others have taken the lead on things like new ideas for marketing, registration and retention. Three parents and two teachers also participated in the meetings. While the NLRCA has relied on carnivals for fundraising, it has found new sources of revenue, including sending letters to former alumni and philanthropists.

“The most important thing for me is that we can engage these other people outside of the school staff, and they bring their senses and their ability to see where we can go and the progress we can make,” Troutman said. “If you work at the school, you’re almost in a day-to-day situation; you don’t have time to expand and know, ‘We can do that.’

Hall said there are no further plans for another four-year program. The Schools Office will pass on what has been learned to all schools, including the graduate profile, emphasizing the qualities each student should have upon graduation, and the enrollment schedule.

“One of the things they had to do at each meeting was complete the enrollment spreadsheet. That enrollment schedule told them how many new students they had, and it was also due to be rolled out for the next year. And that’s something we will continue to do. Our office will ask them to continue,” Hall said. In making the enrollment schedule sheet and sending it to us. Because they put not only the number of new students, but how many students have left, and if they left, why did they leave? Or why did they come?”

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