Springfield Diocese Says Parish School Enrollment Increased 5%, Expects Continued Growth

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SPRINGFIELD – Enrollment at parish schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield increased 5% after a school year where these schools offered on-site learning as education was disrupted in public schools by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The once difficult school enrollment has grown to around 2,500 K-12 students.

Superintendent Daniel Baillargeon expects this increase in enrollment to continue over the next school year, even with annual tuition fees exceeding $ 4,000 per year and as most Commonwealth public schools revert to learning on the spot.

“We initially thought that when the public schools reopened, we would lose a number of our families who came to see us because they came for in-person instruction, but what we noticed was that they were very satisfied with the program. ” said Baillargeon.

“We are losing very few families for this coming year and even with the increase in the size of our classes, we have waiting lists in some of our classes that we did not have in the past. It seems that demand is on the rise because people trust our decisions to open were made correctly and overall they saw that our system did a good job of handling this really tough year.

Baillargeon said the system includes 13 parish and diocesan elementary schools in Hampden and Berkshire counties and one high school, St. Mary’s, in Westfield. It is a system that has seen closures in recent years due to declining enrollment, and does not include the Pope Francis Preparatory School, formed in 2018 by the merger of Holyoke Catholic and Cathedral High, as it operates as an independent Catholic high school within the diocese. .

Baillargeon said schools in the system can “probably accommodate over 3,000 students” and some have already received calls for new enrollments in the fall.

“We were smaller in some of our schools due to social distancing requirements,” Baillargeon said of the schools’ ability to increase enrollment in September. “We’re going back to the state-permitted standard distance and even if we had to do a four-and-a-half-foot spacing, we could fill our classrooms in an educationally appropriate manner. We don’t want to take 40 students into a classroom because that is not good teaching practice.

Governor Charlie Baker temporarily closed schools last spring as COVID-19 cases increased in the state. The diocese announced in July that his schools had sufficient space to support emergency public health security measures required during the pandemic and that they would reopen for on-site learning for the 2020-2021 academic year. Learning patterns varied in public schools with much larger enrollments throughout the year depending on rates of COVID-19 transmission.

Baillargeon said he felt the diocese had proven over the year that it could safely operate its schools and allow them to do “what we do well, which is to teach” and that the approach helped retain and increase student numbers even when public elementary and secondary schools returned. on-site apprenticeship in April.

He said “the biggest challenge” for the system to offer on-site learning came “at the start of the uncertainty of how we would handle” the cases of COVID-19 when they did occur.

“But once we had a few cases of COVID-19 and worked closely with our local public health departments and local environmental experts, we realized that it was safe to continue to learn on the spot.” , said Baillargeon. “Much of that uncertainty fizzled out and we had to do what we do well, which is to teach.”

He added: “There was nervousness at the start of the year, but our teachers, principals and families all trusted each other and that was a huge factor in being able to open up.”

“Once we were able to deal with some of the cases that came up successfully and we didn’t have any spread in our schools, it was a check that, yes, we could and we had to. do it, ”Baillargeon said.

He said that elementary school tuition costs range from $ 4,000 to just over $ 5,000 “and are” less than $ 10,000 “per year at St. Mary’s High.

Baillargeon added that state and federal government money has helped fund some of the infection control measures in schools and that some schools are requesting state funds available to private schools during the l ‘coming year to facilitate access to services designed to’ protect against learning loss. due to the pandemic. “

He said there would be no registration requirement for children to receive a COVID vaccine. There is no state mandate for this and currently vaccination is only available for children 12 years of age and older. He said parents in the fall “will have the freedom to choose whether or not their children should wear masks in our schools.”

Baillargeon, a father of eight aged 3 to a new high school student, said all Catholic schools would close for the summer by June 17 and that he had gone around telling students that “when this are vacations, take vacations. “

“We haven’t had any learning loss because we’ve been in person the entire time,” Baillargeon said. “Some schools for transfer students are going to have summer sessions to catch up with them. We are rolling out progressive testing next year that can identify where students learn wisely when they come to us and tailor our program specifically to their needs. We’re going to do a bit of professional development with our teachers and staff to be ready to use this instrument, but at this point we’ve been working all year and the students need a well-deserved break.

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