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Report Released On Revitalizing Catholic Schools In Western Massachusetts

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WAMC
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The findings of a 15-month comprehensive study on the future of Catholic schools in western Massachusetts were released today by the Diocese of Springfield.

The report by the Pathways Commission makes recommendations for the revitalization of the diocesan school system in western Massachusetts, but says strategic plans must be made for individual schools and the system as a whole if Catholic education is going to exist for generations to come.

In the short-term the emphasis needs to be on controlling costs, and improving access to families who want to send their children to Catholic schools, according to the report.

When Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski announced the study in February 2018, he warned that declining enrollments and rising costs represent a dark cloud over the future of Catholic education. Now, he said the Pathways Report offers some rays of sunshine.

"We have certain areas in which we can work on improvement and we have certain ways we know what the direction is to further the mission of our Catholic schools, so I am certainly more optimistic," said Rozanski.

Total enrollment in the diocesan schools in western Massachusetts is about 2,000 students.  Between the end of the last school year and the beginning of this current academic year enrollment fell by about 2 percent, but Superintendent Dan Baillargeon said there has been a slight increase in enrollment as the current school year has progressed.

"That shows some stability, which is a really good place to be," said Baillaregeon, who said he expected enrollment to continue to increase, but " not by a lot."   He said it showed new efforts to market the schools were paying off even before the study commission's work was completed.

The report does not recommend closing or merging any schools.  There are currently 14 schools, most of them concentrated in the greater Springfield area, with only 3 schools in all of Berkshire County.

Baillargeon said he is confident  the existing schools can be kept open adding, "I don't think there is any reason we should not be adding schools, especially pre-schools, especially early childhood centers and especially in areas of our diocese right now where we do not have any geographic access to a Catholic education."

Ann Dougal, the principal of St. Michael’s Academy in Springfield, participated in the study commission.  The K-8th grade school was created a decade ago when the five parish-based elementary schools in the city of Springfield closed. 

At first, the academy struggled to stay afloat, But enrollment has now increased in each of the last two years and fundraising has help cover operating expenses and tuition assistance.

She credits the administrative model at the academy for some of its success.

"We have a leadership team. I am the principal and we have a business administrator and someone who does marketing and enrollment, someone who does advancement and because we have that team we can focus in the different areas,"  Dougal explained in an interview.

" We really support that model and feel it has been a real asset to us." she said.

The Pathways report said schools must be governed less centrally and in ways that engage and empower people.  It also emphasized hiring the appropriate personnel.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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