The Archdiocese of New York has been struggling with falling enrollment and rising costs at its network of parochial shools, but those struggles also have created an opportunity for the Archdiocese, one that Pope Francis will highlight in his visit next week. Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
The pope is only visiting one school in New York: Our Lady Queen of Angels. But it's no ordinary Catholic school. It's part of an experiment launched three years ago, as the Archdiocese wrestled with a crisis in Catholic education.
"In the past, we've always had wishes and dreams and hopes. Now, we have plans, and that is a major difference," said Joanne Walsh, principal of Our Lady Queen of Angels.
Catholic schools are facing several issues. The number of nuns and priests available to teach has dropped, forcing the hiring of costly lay teachers. Enrollment is down because the surge in charter schools is giving students and their parents other options. And the cost of maintaining hundreds of aging schools keeps rising. The result: 60 city parochial schools have closed in five years.
But with crisis, innovation. The archdiocese let an independent organization manage six schools, including Our Lady Queen of Angels. It's called the Partnership for Inner-City Education.
"We seek to bring innovation and a fresh perspective and new resources to schools that have served their communities for many years," said Jill Kafka of the Partnership for Inner-City Education.
There are 2,100 students at the six partnership schools, all in Harlem or the Bronx. The Partnership manages the academics, operations and finances, just like charter organizations do for their individual schools.
"We're taking the best of what charter schools are doing and incorporating it into our model," Kafka said. "But we really believe we're a third option and a third choice."
With his visit, Pope Francis is shining a light on this new model and the promise it brings to Catholic schools. Test scores are rising, and enrollment is steady, but increasing it remains a challenge.
"I think this is something that's a bigger story in Catholic education, that the corner has been turned and that everything is positive, proactive," Walsh said. "I've been a Catholic school educator for 37 years. I've never been more energized and excited."
The students meeting with the pope may be the best ambassadors.
"It's a wonderful and beautiful place," said one student.