This week, St. Charles Borromeo School enrolled their 369th student. Just three years ago—as St. Charles joined the Partnership in 2019—they had 186 students. Principal Natalia Rodrigo and her team have nearly doubled the size of the school, and the student body has increased over forty percent since just last year.
How are they doing it? “It’s multifaceted,” Natalia explains. “But mostly, it’s community outreach. And when someone applies, we are intentional and personal about giving them a sense of what it’s like to be a St. Charles student.”
She elaborates: We’ve been very intentional about all our partnerships with community groups. The word has gotten out, particularly about how affordable we are. So interest is up, and we’re getting a lot of referrals.”
“Our root beliefs include the idea that we are a family, and every one of us on the team exhibits that from the moment anyone enters this building. We are finding that personal touch means so much. People don’t just want a school; they want a community. And they want a community that really knows them.”
“For example, one mom called to inquire about her students coming here and kept saying, ‘but we’re Muslim.’ It wouldn’t work for me just to tell her over the phone that her children are welcome here. She came in, and she experienced first-hand the respect I told her about. She saw the materials from the Core Knowledge Language Arts unit where all our students learn about Medieval Islamic Empires. And the curriculum plays a role for other parents, too. Plus, the building looks great.”
The enrollment increase at St. Charles provides a powerful proofpoint about how the Partnership unlocks the opportunities that exist for Catholic schools in the neighborhoods we serve. In our first decade, we’ve come to appreciate how much our work demands a strategic balancing of both network support and school team ownership.
For example, St. Charles’s affordability is a direct result of the tuition pilot that the network rolled out across all seven New York schools last year. As a network, we clarified what our schools cost to parents, simplified the process of applying for the scholarships that fill the gap between what families can afford and what our schools cost, and set about fundraising for those scholarships on a scale that would be nearly impossible for a lone parochial school to accomplish. Additionally, our inquiry and enrollment systems—along with the curriculum that Natalia notes is now influencing parents’ decisions—are all network-wide.
Yet as Partnership Vice President of Operations Maria Cristina Ventresca explains, “the support our network gives when it comes to enrollment systems and scholarships is essential, but it is not enough. As increases at St. Charles and several of our other schools demonstrate, parents’ decisions about where they send their children to school are deeply personal. School teams can build personal relationships and conduct creative outreach in their communities better than our network team ever could. And while the network provides tools like our enrollment system and approach to tuition, it is only the way schools use those tools that can really impact the number of students we serve.”
Along with St. Charles, all our schools throughout New York and Cleveland will continue to enroll students as the school year kicks off, building on last year’s 15 percent enrollment increase in New York and the astounding forty percent increase that our first two Cleveland schools achieved in 2020. As Partnership Assistant Superintendent Christian Dallavis explains, increasing the number of students we serve isn’t the goal of our work; it is the start of it. “Growing enrollment is the first step. The long game is preparing future leaders…whose lives will make God known, loved, and served.”