Enrollment rebounds

Sixth-grade students work on a social studies assignment in Declan Broeg’s class at Regina Elementary in Iowa City.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Lynne Devaney, the Diocese of Davenport’s superintendent of Catholic Schools, is encouraged to see families choosing Catholic education and credits growth in enrollment to the work of principals, faculty and staff because “they are there for our students.”

Enrollment in elementary and secondary schools totals 3,984 students for the 2021-2022 academic year, compared with 3,932 the previous year, an increase of 52 students. Elementary level enrollment (excluding preschool) rose by 75 students while secondary level enrollment decreased by 23 students. (See accompanying chart for three-year comparison.) Devaney stresses the importance of viewing enrollment over time. She is also encouraged to see increasing collaboration among the schools.

Principal Celeste Vincent of Regina Elementary in Iowa City reports an increase of 17 students. Since March 2020, when the pandemic hit, Regina has worked to educate students in multiple ways. In spring 2020, students received homework packages to go, participated in Google meets with teachers online, and had plenty of communication.


A Return to Learn committee formed in 2020-21 to keep students, faculty and staff safe. The school offered in-person, online and hybrid learning. “It only cost about 20,000 miles on our tech director’s shoes,” she said. “We kept moving forward and it spread through the community that together we were making this work. Our parents readily shared their appreciation and pleasure of what we were offering, while keeping their children as safe as we could. They were able to keep going to work and performing their jobs so that our greater community could keep moving. This persistence was recognized in the community.”

New families heard about Regina’s success and responded. “We gained several new families this year and at the close of the previous year the majority decided to stay with us,” Vincent said. No one planned on COVID-19 still being a part of education planning. Dedicated teachers and support staff continue “finding ways to reach the children and keep the experience as ‘normal’ as possible for our learners,” she said. “They never cease to give of heart, mind and soul.” She also praises the dedication of parents who remain “arm in arm with us as we have figured this out together…. They have trusted us during this most challenging time.”

“It has been a CommUNITY effort. Our admissions director continues to give regular tours for interested families as they join the Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and surrounding areas/towns. Through some of the most challenging times, we have been able to continue building an excellent reputation in our community. We are a blessed Catholic school. Our faith has served us well and kept us strong throughout this challenge of a lifetime,” Vincent said.

Burlington Notre Dame’s elementary and middle school/high schools increased overall enrollment by 15 students, Principal Bill Maupin said. “We have had an influx from Illinois over the last couple of years and from some local districts.  Many came at the middle to the end of last year and remained with us. We have been able to teach our students in the classroom, face to face.  I think that is a big factor for some of our students’ families to pick Notre Dame. We are very proud of our staff during these last couple of difficult years and of our students for their accomplishments both academically and in extra curriculars.”

Principal Julie Delaney of St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport reports a drop of 11 students. “There is no easy answer,” she said. “Our Catholic school populations are mobile, which is a reflection of society as a whole. We no longer start and end our school year with the same students. Along with mobility, COVID had an impact, as well as the birth rate in the parish.”

In-person learning this academic year and last year drew families to the school but uncertainty in jobs, resulting in financial concerns, led some families to withdraw,” Delaney said. “Along with that, for every family that moves into the area and the parish, one moves out.” From Oct. 1, 2020, through Oct. 1, 2021, “we had 20 students transfer into St. Paul’s, some who came during the 2020-2021 school year, with additional students at the beginning of (this academic) year. We had 21 students transfer out in that same time frame. Our graduating class had 45 students and our incoming kindergarten had 39 students. The reasons for both the transfers in and out were unique to each family. There was not one single reason that could be attributed to the difference.”

Falling birth and baptism rates affect Catholic school enrollment. A decline in student enrollment in the Davenport public school district this academic year “impacts not only St. Paul’s but all of the schools.”

Knowing that our families are our best recruiters, last year we started “Let Your Light Shine: Family Referral Program.” A St. Paul family that refers a new family to register and enroll their children at the school will receive a $250 referral bonus that goes toward the referring family’s tuition. “That program helped to bring new families to St. Paul’s this year,” Delaney said. “As fewer people are engaged in their faith life, it becomes a greater challenge to show the benefit and importance of a Catholic education.  Our Catholic schools are a great way to fulfill the Church’s mission to evangelize and make disciples.”

Assumption High School in Davenport saw a loss of 10 students. President Andy Craig attributes that fact to fluid enrollment. Families move, transfer in and out of schools, and this academic year a smaller freshman class enrolled while a larger class graduated last academic year. Preparing for the 2021-22 school year, Assumption officials planned for even fewer students than anticipated and were pleasantly surprised to see where the numbers ended up, Craig said. “This year has been more fluid then we would like to see, but we have been in-person (last year and this year).”

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