Friday, April 19, 2024

Diocesan Catholic Schools See Growth in Enrollment and Academics

Catholic schools in the Diocese of Harrisburg continue to grow in both enrollment and academics. For the second consecutive year, enrollment increased throughout the Diocesan Catholic schools, after years of slow enrollment loss. From the fall of 2020 to fall of 2021, enrollment in the Diocese’s 34 schools increased by 6%, and increased by nearly 1% more from the fall of 2021 to fall of 2022.

Learning loss was also reported at significantly lower levels than in public schools, a trend seen across Catholic schools in the United States.

Elementary students in the Diocese participated in the Renaissance STAR Assessment, a benchmark assessment used in both private and public schools across the Commonwealth. During the 2021-22 school year, nearly 72% of Diocesan students measured at or above proficiency in reading, 20 points above their Pennsylvania public school counterparts. In math, 77% of Diocesan students measured at or above proficiency, 19 points better than our state public schools.

Nationally, according to STAR testing data, our Diocesan Catholic schools are leading public schools by 16 points in math and 18 points in reading.

“I am very proud of our Catholic schools and the hard work of our principals, faculty and staff, families and students. Prior to COVID, we had a strong academic record. Because our schools quickly transitioned to online learning over the course of a weekend in 2020 and then reopened and provided a safe, in-person learning environment for the 2020-2021 school year, our students have continued to excel,” said Bishop Ronald Gainer. “Our Catholic schools, like so many others in our country, went above and beyond to give our students a safe, faith-filled, enriching learning environment. The results from our latest achievement assessments show that these efforts have been successful.”

“Finding ways to continue providing a high-quality, effective learning environment, while in the midst of COVID, was a challenge for all of our schools. After seeing the efforts of our school leadership and faculty, and the commitment of our families, our enrollment increase and academic achievement results are welcome recognition,” said Daniel Breen, Superintendent of Catholic Education for the Diocese.

St. John Neumann School in Lancaster, a PreK through eighth grade school, was one of the Diocesan schools that has seen significant enrollment increase and consistent academic performance.

Kyla Hockley, principal, attributed the enrollment increase – from 130 students in the fall of 2020 to 200 students this fall – to several factors, including the school’s continuation of in-person learning during COVID, and its relocation from St. Anne Parish to St. John Neumann Parish in 2020.

“Families who have joined our community have been pleased, so word of mouth is also very strong,” she said. “We offer full-day PreK, which has been a draw to build our enrollment from the ground up.”

“Maintaining a strong academic program has been a top priority and a challenge as we have grown, since many of the students coming in have had mixed experiences of virtual and in-person education,” Hockley continued.

To address this challenge and ensure students’ educational needs are being met, St. John Neumann School utilized data from STAR benchmark testing to identify areas for growth. It also added staffing to assist teachers, and implemented WIN (What I Need) Time for students and staff to collaborate.

“The combination of the three is what has allowed teachers to meet with students individually or in small groups to provide targeted support in addition to the whole group instruction that takes place in the classroom,” Hockley explained. “Our teachers conference with their students so they, too, are able to monitor their own progress.”

“The greatest gift we as Catholic schools can give to our students is a genuine, intrinsic belief that they are gifted by God in unique ways that will continue to unfold over their lifetime, and that God has called them to greatness,” Hockley said. “Those gifts and that greatness won’t look the same in each person, but having a personal faith and world-view that seeks the goodness of God in others has the power to change the world.”

Students release butterflies as part of a classroom project at St. Francis Xavier School in Gettysburg.
Students release butterflies as part of a classroom project at St. Francis Xavier School in Gettysburg.

The STAR assessments provide a number of metrics.  In addition to measurement of proficiency, STAR assessments include a Student Growth Percentile (SGP) in order to measure both growth and achievement over the course of an academic year. In the Diocese, all students in our elementary schools, including those with learning plans, participate in the STAR testing three times per year – fall, winter and spring.

Since 1868, the Catholic schools in the Diocese have educated thousands of students in faith and academics. Today, we have nearly 10,000 students and 1,000 teachers and staff in the Diocese’s 34 Catholic schools. During the 2021-2022 school year, our students completed a total of more than 60,000 service hours and graduating seniors earned approximately $38 million in college scholarships.

To learn about Catholic education in the Diocese of Harrisburg, contact your local Catholic school or visit

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

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