Catholic schools prepare to launch media campaign

The Diocese of Charles ton had even more of a reason than usual to celebrate Cath olic Schools Week.

Bishop-designate Robert E. Guglielmone, who was appointed to the diocese on Dec. 23 by Pope Benedict XVI, is very much a youth oriented leader and is an avid supporter of Scouting.

Sister Julia Hutchison, superintendent of diocesan schools, said she looks forward to meeting with the new bishop and sharing what she hopes to do for Catholic education.

Big plans are afoot for the 31 schools scattered around the state. They have been working on accreditation for all diocesan schools and are prepared to launch a media campaign to promote awareness of religious education.

One of the items on the agenda is the creation of statewide billboards proclaiming the simple message, “Experience the Extraordinary: South Carolina Catholic Schools.” The ‘t’ in the first line will probably be in the shape of a cross, Sister Julia said.

Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, diocesan administrator, included the schools in a Year-End Giving Appeal for 2008. Matt Dwyer, director of stewardship and development, said it is the first time the diocese has had a year-end campaign. He said the areas specified for donations were Catholic Charities and the schools office to help fund the public awareness campaign.

According to figures from the Office of Stewardship and Mission Advancement, the appeal netted $7,645 for schools.

Sister Julia said they started working on the advancement program for Catholic schools in 2007 and have almost completed Stage 1, which focused on enrollment management.

During this phase, Jay Gould held a number of seminars for principals, staff and teachers on the importance of understanding enrollment, which is about more than how many students a school has.

Gould is founder and president of The Advancement Counsel in Boston, a national consulting firm that partners with Catholic schools, diocesan and religious organizations.

He said enrollment management lets faculty members create ways to promote their individual schools, increase their numbers and help the rolls hold steady over a long period of time.   

The seminars focus on a number of areas that are key to survival.

“The strategic challenge of our time is the viability and sustainability of our Catholic schools,” Gould said.

Schools learn to identify the various ways families express interest, such as hits on the Web site or attending open house, and to track those people and follow up on their interest.

“We want to move families from a distant relationship — a distant relationship would be a phone call — to an actual close relationship, which is to attend,” Gould said.

Once students are enrolled, faculty then has to understand how to retain them.

Gould said there are six primary reasons students leave: finances, disciplinary problems, academic struggles,  relocation, and social and family issues.

He said if principals and teachers understand the whys, they can learn how to better respond to individual concerns and diminish their losses.

Seminar attendees receive software to track indicators for recruitment and retention, Gould said. They also develop a plan that helps identify the unique attributes of their school and create their own individual tagline.

About half of the diocesan schools have completed the seminars and developed their slogans. Each motto is followed by a list of characteristics essential to that school’s focus.

St. Anne in Rock Hill chose the tagline We Believe,   followed by “We believe in God, we believe in family, we believe in teachers, we believe in each other, we believe in you.”

Sister Julia said the remaining schools will attend the seminars over the next several months to complete their individual marketing plans.

Meanwhile the schools office is moving toward Stage 2, which is the media blitz.

“States all over the U.S. are closing Catholic schools,” Sister Julia said. “Meanwhile we’re opening schools in the diocese. But we’re not foolish enough to think we won’t be affected by the economy, so we want to take a pro-active stance to keep things moving in the right direction.”

One school that is opening is Holy Trinity Catholic Education Center, which will be run by Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach.

The school hopes to serve kindergarten through fourth grade initially, and then add a grade each year at least up to eighth grade, said Father Robert Higgins, church administrator.  He noted that they already have about 140 students committed to attend, and have a capacity for 400.    

Also, proponents of the two proposed high schools are hopeful that plans will move forward on those ventures now that a bishop has been appointed.

The first school is planned for the Grand Strand area and would serve parishes in Horry and Georgetown counties.   

The proposed name is Bishop Baker High School, in honor of Bishop Robert J. Baker, now of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. Bishop Baker approved plans for the school in September 2006 while he was still bishop of Charleston.

Another school on the drawing board is Pope John Paul II for Beaufort County. The diocese purchased land for this project on Highway 170, near the Beaufort-Jasper county line.

Father Ronald R. Cellini, pastor of St. Gregory the Great in Bluffton, said fund raising has been on hold, but he hopes plans will move forward with the arrival of Bishop-designate Guglielmone.