By JORDAN MCMORROUGH
CHARLESTON — A consulting group that developed a strategic plan for diocesan schools in the Midlands early last year was busy at work in the Coastal and Pee Dee deaneries late last fall conducting similar efforts.
Meitler Consultants Inc. of Hales Corner, Wis., specializes in diocesan studies, high school planning, new school feasibility studies and elementary school planning. Results from their efforts in the two deaneries will be unveiled in a couple of months. The Office of Planning has provided supplemental data to Meitler using information compiled from the annual parish report forms that parishes submit each year to the diocese.
Msgr. James A. Carter, vicar general, said the renewed appeal of Catholic schools in recent years has made it imperative to address issues of size, location, and type of facilities. He noted that most schools, such as his parish school of Christ Our King/Stella Maris, have waiting lists and that the Meitler consultants come in with recommendations as to where we need elementary schools and high schools and how to configure them.
In the Pee Dee Deanery, under the leadership of Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy, the group worked with diocesan, parish and school leaders to develop a strategic plan for Catholic schools in the greater Grand Strand area, covering Georgetown to North Myrtle Beach.
The process is examining projections for Catholic school enrollment in future years and, based upon projected growth, to determine if opportunities exist to expand elementary school facilities to accommodate such growth.
In addition, Meitler is investigating if new Catholic elementary schools will be needed in areas where the population is growing. If schools are needed, Meitler’s research will also indicate their possible locations and size as well as the impact these schools would have on existing schools in the area.
On another high profile issue, the feasibility of a Catholic high school in the Myrtle Beach/Garden City area is being examined. If feasible, where such a facility would be located, how large it should be, and how it would be funded were among the questions asked.
Following the development of the strategic plan, Meitler Consultants will recommend steps to begin the effort and develop a timeline for implementation.
For the Coastal Deanery, the study focused on the six-county area where new parishes and/or schools may be considered or could be restructured. Msgr. Christopher Lathem, pastor of St. John the Beloved Church in Summerville, spearheaded the process in the Charleston area, according to Gary Gelo, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese.
Meitler evaluated enrollment trends and potential enrollment by analyzing data from parishes regarding religious educational enrollment, parish registration and infant baptisms. Those figures determined the number of potential Catholic children who could enroll in schools, as well as possible parish growth.
After compiling the enrollment data, waiting list information, and trends for elementary schools in the deanery, the consultants assessed the growth potential for the Coastal counties.
The summary report will provide the focus for a strategic planning process for parishes and schools in the deanery.
Last March, a long-range plan for Catholic schools in the Midlands was released following the year-long examination of detailed reports, demographic research, survey results and parish and school trends.
Among its more notable recommendations, the report called for the expansion of St. John Neumann School, the establishment of a new elementary school at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington, the relocation of Cardinal Newman middle and high schools to a more accessible area, expanding St. Martin de Porres School, the development of a new elementary school to serve North Lexington and Richland counties, and the further assessment in eight to 10 years of a school to be located south/southeast of Columbia.
“Results from the strategic plan will be important in assisting the diocese with its long range planning for schools in the Pee Dee and Coastal deaneries,” said Lisa Rawlins, director of planning.