It’s a new school year for Warwick’s quartet of Catholic schools with steady enrollment, increased early education programming and solid safety plans.
Warwick public schools start tomorrow, as do most parochial schools.
Last year, Warwick Catholic schools at the elementary level had a total of 621 students, according to the Diocese of Providence. All three elementary schools have reported an increase this year.
St. Kevin’s School, which opens tomorrow, is experiencing another year of increasing enrollment. According to Principal Roger Parent, he expects 192 students to be registered for school by the first day.
“That is up from what we ended with last year,” said Parent, estimating an increase of roughly 20 students from last year’s 171. Parent said numbers have been growing since he became principal in 2008. He estimated a population of 141 students at that time and while he believes St. Francis School’s closing caused a spike, growth has continued.
The growth is especially noticeable in pre-K. Parent explained that before last year, there was one pre-K class for all 3- and 4-year-olds. Last year, the group was split into two classes based on age to make the number of students in the class manageable. St. Kevin’s offers half-day and full-day options, three, four or five days a week.
This year, an additional pre-K classroom was added to accommodate 31 3-year-olds and 25 4-year-olds. There will also be two kindergarten classrooms this year for 30 students.
“This is the first year [since my hiring] we’ve hired new staff,” said Parent. St. Kevin’s hired two new teacher aides and two teachers to cover the new classrooms.
While he admits to losing a few students when they make the move from kindergarten to first grade (down to 20 first graders from 22 kindergarteners this year), Parent hopes not raising tuition ($4,310 for parishioners for one student, $4,690 for non-parishioners) and no new fees will encourage students to stay.
“It’s refreshing to see our numbers in the lower grades where they are,” said Parent. “We do our best to keep them.”
Principal Joan Sickinger sees the same growth at St. Peter School. When she became principal seven years ago, enrollment was around 170; this year she will welcome 207 students on Sept. 3 for the first day of school.
Both her preschool and Kindergarten classes are full, with a waitlist. Sickinger explained that all preschool students are not there at the same time because of two-day, three-day or five-day options, so classes remain manageable.
“We try to keep it at 20 to 21 per class, but we took a few extra in that Tuesday/Thursday program,” explained Sickinger, who pointed out that new preschool students will be welcomed to the school during an ice cream social at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday.
When asked why she felt enrollment at St. Peter, where tuition is $3,850 per student for kindergarten through eighth grade, was growing, she believed parents liked the programming and curriculum.
“We have an excellent curriculum and I think they like that it’s faith-based,” said Sickinger.
According to Superintendent of Catholic Schools Daniel J. Ferris, schools are looking at the common core curriculum and their curriculums will be “informed” by them, but the schools are not required to adopt the common core.
“The standards are excellent benchmarks. We recognize the value for the education of students,” said Ferris.
However, he said Catholic schools would maintain “broader edges” on their curriculum and not focus on college preparedness and vocational training.
“We want to educate the whole person,” said Ferris.
Sickinger said she and her team are investigating the common core, especially math, in the lower levels.
“You have to start at a lower level,” said Sickinger, explaining that her seventh and eighth graders would not benefit as much because they were not in the program from the beginning.
While she said they are looking at the common core as they revamp their curriculum, she pointed out she does not want to institute concepts that young students won’t be able to grasp.
St. Rose of Lima School Principal Jeannine Fuller said her student population has also been growing over the years, increasing from 245 to 262 for the 2013-2014 school year.
For the first time this year, St. Rose of Lima will have two pre-K classrooms, splitting the over 30 students into a class of 3-year-olds and a class of 4-year-olds. Fuller said the grade level has increased from 23 students and she hopes to keep the students at St. Rose of Lima as they grow.
“We have a lot of young siblings entering the pre-K level,” said Fuller, adding that she hopes creating a family atmosphere will keep students at the school. “We hope that they stay.”
Fuller also said a tuition rate of $3,850 for parishioners and $4,500 for non-parishioners is one of the lower rates in Warwick Catholic schools despite a slight increase from last year.
While students at St. Rose of Lima should not expect any changes to programming, the teachers were trained earlier this week in the new teacher evaluation system, Teachscape.
“As principal, I go into the classroom and perform a five- to seven-minute observation of the teacher,” said Fuller, who explained that the new program utilizes an iPad to track performance over the year. During a faculty meeting on Monday, teachers were able to step into the role of observer and complete evaluations to understand how they will be evaluated using the new system.
Fuller explained that the program will evaluate both teachers and curriculum in the classroom.
Ferris also made mention of the new evaluation program, saying it will be making its way through the Catholic school system.
While it seems enrollment is growing at the elementary level, Bishop Hendricken High School, where tuition is $12,750 per student, is facing the same issue that Warwick Public Schools is.
“Our pool is smaller,” said Principal Jay Brennan, explaining that the secondary school student population across the state is smaller across the board and that does affect the population at Hendricken. “It’s just where the numbers are.
“This year we’re very close to where we were,” added Brennan, estimating his student body to be between 940 and 950 guys. According to the Diocese, as of Oct. 1, 2012, there were 958 students at the school last year. “We’re very comfortable with the number in our school.”
Brennan is preparing to welcome back his students this week with a staggered orientation process. Freshmen will be in school today for a casual day known as Taking Flight. Then on Wednesday morning, freshmen will be in school, followed by sophomores in the afternoon. Finally on Thursday morning, seniors will report for orientation, followed by juniors in the afternoon. One change to Hendricken’s opening is that students will be in the building Tuesday through Thursday, but enjoy a four-day Labor Day weekend due to a faculty retreat on Friday.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be done during orientation,” said Brennan. Both he and Hendricken President John Jackson speak to each class, and by having them separated the presentation can be tailored.
“We have a different message for each grade,” said Brennan.
During individual class orientations, students are able to take the photos for their student IDs, purchase necessary books and receive their lockers, among other housekeeping items.
Tomorrow’s Taking Flight is seen as a fun day to welcome the newest Hawks.
“It’s geared towards doing our best to keep the kids relaxed,” said Brennan. He also said the day is great for the incoming students because it is coordinated by student peer ministers. For the most part, peer ministers are seniors, but a small number of juniors and sophomores participate as well.
“It’s a full day with just [freshmen]. They get a feel for the school,” said Brennan, who explained that the freshmen follow their schedule, meet every teacher, and perform icebreakers in each class. “We try to do it in an informal way.”
For this school year, Hendricken will continue to sponsor a number of service trips, but Brennan is especially excited for the second faculty and staff service day. Last year, the school’s final professional day was used to travel to Catholic schools throughout the state, especially those in lower income areas, for a day of service. The faculty and staff performed tasks such as cleaning and painting, but also gave presentations to the younger students, spoke with seventh and eighth graders about how to be successful in high school and worked in the cafeteria so the staff of other schools could enjoy a special lunch.
“I thought it would be good, but it turned out even better than I thought it would,” said Brennan, who hopes to expand the program to allow the local Catholic elementary schools to make use of Hendricken facilities for special classes and presentations.
One such school that already has an agreement with Hendricken is St. Kevin’s.
Starting last school year, Parent said his students have been able to take the short ride to Hendricken using St. Kevin’s bus and make use of the gym, science labs and the media center.
“Some of our students were in their spring production of ‘Oliver!’” said Parent. “They played orphans.”
Parent said the partnership with Hendricken has also allowed his middle school teachers to speak with Hendricken’s teachers to ensure students are properly prepared for high school.
For this school year, there has been a lot of talk about school safety. All Warwick Catholic schools, and Catholic schools in general, are taking the same precautions as public schools, but many say the safety procedures have been in place all along.
Parent explained that all of the doors at St. Kevin’s are locked once the school day begins and remain locked until the end of the day. There is also a buzzer, camera and monitor for the front door.
“We got new locks that are easier to lock down,” said Parent, explaining that teachers on the first floor can now lock classroom doors from the inside and no longer need to fumble with keys. “We took care of the first floor first, and eventually we will move on to the second floor.”
Sickinger said her school’s security measures have remained the same with regular safety drills, and St. Peter’s is always locked. Visitors must ring a bell and someone needs to let them in. Sickinger also pointed out that she and her secretary have a direct view of the door and can see anyone approaching.
The story was the same at St. Rose of Lima, with Fuller explaining that all doors have been locked in the past and a buzzer system has been in place.
“We did have police officers out last year to present to our teachers,” said Fuller. “One thing they said was they had trouble getting into our school.”
Brennan said Hendricken is also locked all day with a buzzer system, and all mandatory drills are performed regularly.
“The drills work well. We get the kids out of the building fast,” said Brennan. “We prepare for the worst, but pray for the best.”