Catholic high school in Victoria hones in on personal approach to enrollment growth with ‘Operation Bar Stool’

| March 20, 2019 | 0 Comments
From left, freshmen Lucas Schoenecker and Laura Theis talk March 11 with sophomore Daniel Borbonio outside Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria. All three live in Shakopee and benefit from Holy Family’s efforts to boost enrollment by busing students into the school from beyond the school’s usual Chaska-Chanhassen area.

From left, freshmen Lucas Schoenecker and Laura Theis talk March 11 with sophomore Daniel Borbonio outside Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria. All three live in Shakopee and benefit from Holy Family’s efforts to boost enrollment by busing students into the school from beyond the school’s usual Chaska-Chanhassen area. COURTESY PAULA CHARCHENKO, HOLY FAMILY CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL

As he joined the staff of Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria in 2016, Scott Breimhorst, executive director of admissions, didn’t like one aspect of what he saw: 395 students enrolled, the first time in 10 years administrators expected fewer than 400 students to fill Holy Family classrooms.

Partly because there were fewer students in area Catholic schools overall, Holy Family’s freshman class numbered only 71.

“That’s scary when you’re used to 100 to 110” students in each freshman class, Breimhorst said.

So he and others at the school, which includes grades nine through 12, looked at ways to expand the school’s reach. Those efforts are bearing fruit, he said, with freshman enrollment growing to 94 students in 2017-2018 and 108 students this year. Overall, enrollment dipped to 391 students last year, but grew this year to 403 students, and interest is increasing, Breimhorst said.

“We are tracking ahead of last year, and last year was a good year,” he said of interest in 2019-2020 enrollment. “We anticipate reaching 500 kids in the next two or three years.”

Breimorst’s first big push was to meet with families in person wherever they could get together, such as their homes, churches and restaurants. “We realized we needed a very, very personal endeavor,” he said of attracting new families to the school. “We called it Operation Bar Stool.”

Information gathered in those meetings and elsewhere fueled several strategies employed by Holy Family. For example, school officials realized definitions of affordability vary depending on the family, Breimhorst said. So the school increased the number of merit scholarships it awards regardless of a family’s income, while continuing to offer grants based on need or certain qualifications, such as coming from one particular middle school, he said.

“Going from a $6,000 (annual tuition) grade school to a $15,000 high school … is a leap,” he said. “We need to at least take the edge off.”

In another initiative, Holy Family now buses students into school from outside its usual Chaska-Chanhassen area, Breimhorst said. About 20 new students came from outside that area last fall, and this year more than 30 students are coming to the high school from more distant towns including Shakopee, Prior Lake, Mound, Eden Prairie and Edina, he said.

The school also is partnering with five Catholic elementary schools in the area to offer advanced music, foreign languages and mathematics. Elementary school students either come to the high school or a high school instructor goes out to the schools.

That initiative is premised on the idea that Catholic elementary schools and high schools don’t need to operate as silos, each standing alone, Breimhorst said. “We can work together.”

The ultimate goals are for Holy Family to meet families’ needs and offer a faith-based, academically challenging environment, he said. Families are responding, he said.

“We’ve discovered the power of the community,” Breimhorst said.

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Category: Local News