WINDSOR TERRACE — The Superintendent’s Office of the Diocese of Brooklyn is “cautiously optimistic” that Catholic school enrollments across Brooklyn and Queens will rise this school year, a promising reversal after 10 years of declines.
“With cautious optimism, indications show that we’re going to see growth for the first time in at least a decade,” said Ted Havelka, director of enrollment management and financial assistance for the superintendent of schools, regarding the diocese’s latest enrollment projections.
Additionally, this summer marked the first time in recent years that a Catholic school in Brooklyn or Queens did not permanently close.
Comments on the upbeat indicators marked the first day of the diocese’s 2021-2022 school year.
Though total student enrollment will not be finalized until mid-September — the usual window of time for any last-minute student registrations and transfers — Havelka confirmed that more than 19,000 students will be learning in the diocese’s 69 Catholic academies and parish schools.
“At least half of our schools are poised, right now, to see some sort of enrollment growth,” Havelka said, “with the overall diocese really set to see a slight growth.”
Some students who were enrolled in the St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning Program last year will be returning to their “brick and mortar” schools; others will continue to learn through the new St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Online Academy (STACOA), which launched on Sept. 8. That number, according to Havelka, is nearly 100 students.
“I’m so grateful and happy about the fact that the Diocese of Brooklyn is committed to offering an online option to families for whatever reason they may have,” said STACOA Principal Dr. Stephen Haessler. “I think it is a gift and really signals the willingness the diocese has to work together and make options available in order to bring Catholic education to as many families as possible.”
Though the Superintendent’s Office is hopeful to see a growth year, they noted the financial toll on the budgets of both families and schools caused by the coronavirus pandemic cannot be ignored.
“We’re on the brink of growth, but more families need help,” Havelka said. Futures in Education, the non-profit organization that provides tuition assistance to families across the diocese, has been critical in helping thousands of families stay enrolled in their schools — averaging about $7 million in scholarships annually.
Msgr. David Cassato, vicar for Catholic schools and pastor of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, has interacted with families first-hand since the fall of 2020 and remains positive about the future of Catholic education. He said he saw at least eight parents entering the academy building to register their children in the week leading up to the first day of school.
“Because of the pandemic, people have come to our schools and have found them to be what they really are — a real gem in this city,” Msgr. Cassato said.
“I also think a key [factor] is really getting out the message that we teach the faith at our schools,” he continued. “Because this pandemic has brought a lot of people to their knees, people have realized that we need our faith to get through these real critical moments in life.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Chadzutko echoed Msgr. Cassato’s sentiments, adding, “In addition to the faith teaching, we’ve proven that our English language arts, math, and STEM programs can compete with other schools.”
He continued, “And when people saw the level of technology in our buildings, as well as the integration of technology, it proved that the Catholic school product really meets the needs of the whole child.”