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Under Archbishop Charles Chaput, the troubled archdiocese moves to independently managed secondary schools.
BY THOMAS L. McDONALD
PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is turning the management of its 17 high schools and four special-education schools over to the Faith in the Future Foundation.
The archdiocese’s groundbreaking agreement with Faith in the Future announced today creates the first independently managed Catholic secondary-school system in the U.S. and the largest independently managed system in the nation.
The foundation was created on the recommendation of a blue-ribbon commission empaneled to identify solutions to Philadelphia’s various problems. It will assume “strategic and operational control” of the schools beginning Sept. 1 and will also serve in an advisory capacity to the 123 diocesan elementary schools.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called the move “a historic day for Catholic education in the United States” during a signing ceremony and press conference at St. Hubert’s School for Girls.
“Our Catholic high schools and schools of special education have long been a source of pride for the archdiocese. We have worked more than a century to bring the educational vision of St. John Neumann to fruition, yet we are faced with unprecedented challenges. We created the Faith in the Future Foundation to help stabilize and sustain our Catholic high schools.”
The Philadelphia high-school system serves 14,000 students in its 17 high schools and even more in its schools for the blind, the deaf and those with developmental disabilities. Of these students, 95% move on to college, with the class of 2012 receiving more than $280 billion in scholarships — the highest in the history of the archdiocese.
Despite the strength of the schools and their vital service to the community, they have been functioning far below peak enrollment. In January, the archdiocese made the difficult decision to shutter 44 elementary schools and four high schools.
The school closings were the latest in a series of crises faced by Archbishop Chaput during the year following his installation as the ninth bishop of Philadelphia.
Rocked by financial and legal difficulties, Philadelphia has witnessed the first prosecution and conviction of a Church official in the sexual-abuse scandal, an unprecedented $17-million budget deficit and waves of school and parish closings.
The archdiocese has had to lay off 45 employees and close its newspaper and youth office. It has sold a number of high-value properties. Even the 13,000-square-foot archbishop’s residence, once a symbol of the Philadelphia Church’s storied legacy, was put on the block.
With today’s announcement, the archbishop finally has some good news. The four high schools — originally slated for closure — will remain open, thanks to the reorganization conducted by Faith in the Future.
One of the rescued schools is St. Hubert’s, which has already witnessed a 20% jump in enrollment. School administrators will welcome 166 freshmen when its doors open next month.
The Faith in the Future Foundation is part of a larger national trend to make Catholic education self-sustaining. As the Register reported last winter, the collapse of Catholic education is due to declining enrollments, rising expenses and tuitions, lower Mass attendance, and a weakened sense of Catholic identity.
The solution is to manage schools better, with more focus on aggressive recruitment and fundraising efforts.
Archbishop Chaput said that the archdiocese will work “in close collaboration with the foundation to implement best practices, focus on major fundraising, increase enrollment and manage the schools.”
The Office of Catholic Education will remain in full control of the educational content of the schools. It retains possession of all its buildings, and the teachers will continue to work under their existing contracts.
Leading the effort will be H. Edward Hanway, the former CEO of health-insurance giant Cigna. Hanway will act as chairman of the board for Faith in the Future until a permanent CEO is chosen. The board will be comprised of 16 members, with a third of them appointed by the archbishop.
Hanway has helped steer Philadelphia through a challenging period, first as a member of the blue-ribbon commission and now as the leader of Faith in the Future.
“‘Good enough’ simply isn’t enough,” said Hanway. “We must be excellent in every facet of our schools. We will be engaged in a robust marketing effort aimed at students and parents, those within the system and those not. Our capacity is not utilized to its full. It’s time for us to say out loud and very clearly that we are open for business and want you to be part of our schools.”
In addition to improving management, fundraising and recruitment, Faith in the Future is planning to introduce a number of new initiatives.
The most notable change will be in the area of distance and computer-based learning. Eleven schools will offer distance-learning courses, while others are partnering with colleges for both distance learning and on-site college-level classes.
Six high schools will begin offering Mandarin Chinese, courtesy of three guest teachers from China. West Philadelphia Catholic is partnering with Play On, Philly! to offer free music instruction.
The price of tuition will remain approximately $6,000, which is the cost of educating a single student. Hanway says that tuition will not rise, and he hopes to bring it down in the future.
The move to independent management will position the Catholic school system to take advantage of the new voucher laws, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit and the Educational Investment Tax Credit. The new programs will provide up to $50 million in tuition assistance statewide in an effort to get kids out of failing schools.
The archdiocese has the capacity to educate an additional 15,000 students, and Hanway is confident that families in some of Philadelphia’s floundering public schools will want what the Catholic school system has to offer.
“Our schools are truly phenomenal,” he said, “and they produce outstanding young men and women who are prepared for success.”
Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald blogs
about Catholicism, technology and culture.