Marketing a Priceless Gift 

‘School’s out!” A blessed summer to our students, teachers, staffs, principals, volunteers …and parents! Congratulations to our graduates from eighth grade, high school, and college!

It’s a good time to praise God again for the priceless gift of our Catholic schools, and to thank all of those who make them the prize they are: our parents, benefactors, parishioners, pastors, and parish priests, religious women and men, principals, teachers, boards, volunteers, students, and alumni.

The end of this academic year was a somber one for those schools that will not reopen in September. A positive sign is that most of the students in those closing schools will indeed be enrolled in the nearby Catholic school. Still, there is no denying the sadness for our students, parents, parishioners, priests, and teachers in these splendid schools that closed.

The good news is that, while fewer, our schools will now be fuller, in better facilities, and more fiscally sound. Please God, the days of such gloomy announcements of long lists of closings are over. All indications also show that our early childhood enrollment will go up, a ray of real hope for the future.

And now, with such painful decisions behind us, we can concentrate on the other promising elements of our strategic plan, Pathways to Excellence: improvement of already very sound academics, intensifying Catholic identity, development of regional schools, fostering of principal-formation, and marketing.

Simply put, we’ve got one of the best products around—a solid, excellent, faith-based education, the envy of the educational world—and we don’t trumpet it enough! As I remarked to our legislators in Albany, “We do it twice as well at half the cost.”

What usually happens is that the only time we dig in and promote our schools is when they’re going to close.

And the main reason our beloved schools have to close? Because most of our parents are not sending their children there!

As excellent as they are, only about one-third of our parents send their children to Catholic schools! And we usually sit back and yawn.

If they’re worth keeping—and they sure are—they’re worth promoting.

So, when we have to close a school, the “blame game” begins: that mean archdiocese; that pastor who never liked the school; that mean archdiocese; those teachers who keep wanting more money; that mean archdiocese; that nearby school who takes all our kids; that mean archdiocese; those charter schools…

The real reason, we all know, is hardly those blamed above, but those Catholic parents who do not send their children to our schools. I’m not judging or blaming them, for they may have a very understandable reason. All I’m saying is that, if 10 percent more of our parents sent their children to our schools, we’d be building them, not closing them.

A parish doesn’t really close a school; the mean archdiocese doesn’t really close a school; the parents do, because their kids don’t go there, and the school can’t make it. A parish or the mean archdiocese only sadly acknowledges the reality that the school is no longer attracting a sustainable number of children.

So, what’s the answer? Marketing! We vigorously promote our schools and recruit students.

And, we encourage our people to support them financially.

Once again, never fails: When a tearful decision is made to shutter a school, people will, understandably and laudably, rise up to “save” their school. One has to ask, “Where have you been?” Often, the names of the loudest critics about the decision cannot be found on the roll of benefactors. We can no longer wait until our school is “on the block” to raise the money they need to remain both open and strong.

Part of marketing is also convincing our politicians about the justice of tax credits and vouchers for our schools. Once again, when a school closes, the politicians often criticize the decision. But, as we’ve just seen, another legislative session in Albany has closed without passage of the very promising educational tax credit bill.

When an elected official writes me to complain about a school closing, I’ll do some research on his/her past record on support for our schools. Often, it’s not good at all. When I mention that to them in my reply, I usually do not hear from them again.

So, we can blame…we’re all good at that… or we can boast… that’s marketing: we encourage parents to enroll their children in our splendid Catholic schools; we do all we can to raise money for this most costly endeavor; and we lobby for justice in educational choice.

As I’ve remarked before, we can’t “do business as usual” and just presume our schools are going to make it. They are a gift worth every penny, every drop of sweat, every minute of work. They’re worth fighting for…and we need to start doing it!

A blessed summer!