WINDSOR TERRACE — Less than a week after becoming the new president and CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), Lincoln Snyder was already thinking about the next school year, which will begin in less than two months.
“I’m really focusing on two big themes this year — heroes and growth — as I come into this new role with the NCEA,” Snyder explained to The Tablet. “In a lot of places across the country, we were the schools that were open — or certainly the ones that opened first — due to the heroic heavy lifting of teachers.”
“Our Catholic schools really pushed the envelope to make sure we were serving kids however best we could over the past year and a half,” he continued. “I’m really looking forward to having the conversation around ‘How do we tell this story of what we’ve done well, both in general and during this past year, informing the servant leaders of Christ?’ ”
The former superintendent and executive director of schools for the Diocese of Sacramento assumed the position from Kathy Mears, who will resume her role as the chief program officer after serving as interim president & CEO since April 2020.
Snyder also served as chair of the California Catholic Schools Superintendents Conference since 2019 and was a teacher and board chair at his alma mater, Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento.
News of Synder’s appointment comes as the NCEA looks to bounce back from its biggest single-year enrollment drop since the 1970s.
The NCEA reported in February that 209 schools had closed permanently across the country within the last year. Nationwide enrollment in elementary and secondary schools also declined by 6.4% between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago experienced a more-than-8% decline in enrollment.
Registration within parish schools and Catholic academies across the Diocese of Brooklyn, however, has grown 1,500 students compared to last June. Forty percent of schools either stabilized or increased their student populations this year, according to Ted Havelka, director of enrollment management and financial assistance for the diocese’s superintendent of schools.
The association also found that Catholic school enrollment grew more than 2% in the Diocese of Las Vegas last year. Enrollment also increased 3% from September 2019 in Snyder’s home diocese.
With these examples in mind, Snyder believes other Catholic schools can reverse the declining trend this upcoming year.
“Some of our schools are down,” Snyder said in terms of enrollment. “I’ve seen in particular schools where families who are in the service sectors or have been dependent on hourly wages were perhaps more exposed to the recession resulting from the pandemic.”
“But, I’m very hopeful,” he continued, “because we’ve shown that we’re committed to always staying focused on what’s best for the kids.”
For example, waitlists and increased and renewed interest from new families are positive signs, in Snyder’s eyes.
“I want to make sure that we, as the NCEA, are helping frame that conversation of what can we do next, as a system, and what can individual members — be it a teacher, school, or diocesan office — do to also have that conversation around growth,” Snyder said.
He also explained that one of his other goals as president is to help dioceses, bishops, and Catholic school leaders find affordable resources that will propel them to success.
“It’s time for us to use that heroic heavy lifting to start a new conversation coming out of COVID-19.”