All Saints, St. Mary Magdalen, Immaculate Conception and St. Francis de Sales schools begin partnership with Healey Education Foundation to help sustainability
Four elementary schools are part of a new partnership between the Diocese of Wilmington and the Healey Education Foundation that will help schools sustain their future with improved marketing, fundraising and planning.
The diocese announced the four schools selected for the Healey partnership during the first week of May. They are All Saints in Elsmere, St. Mary Magdalen in Brandywine Hundred, Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., and St. Francis de Sales in Salisbury, Md.
The schools will implement the foundation’s “advancement methodology” beginning with the next academic year. That methodology involves several facets:
• Enrollment management: Marketing that improves retention and recruitment. According to the foundation, the focus is “on the family as a customer.”
• Development: Raising “funds and friends” consistent with the school’s mission.
• Governance and strategic planning: “Engaging the laity in decision-making, policy making and financial accountability.”
According to the foundation’s website, those strategies will result in stronger leadership and more local control.
Superintendent of Schools Louis De Angelo said the Diocese of Wilmington “made a substantial commitment financially and in energy” to bring the Healey Education Foundation program to Wilmington.
De Angelo said he and other diocesan officials traveled to the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., to see the progress Healey has made since it started working with schools there several years ago. They shared that information with schools in the Wilmington diocese, and about eight schools ultimately expressed an interest. Foundation representatives visited those schools and recommended working with the four that were named.
The Healey foundation’s program for the diocesan schools has already begun. The schools will conduct focus groups, complete “readiness assessments” and hire advancement staff over the summer. Based on the results, Healey will recommend what consulting services are needed and will set enrollment and development goals.
‘A great step’
Rob Costante, the principal of St. Francis de Sales, said there was a lot of discussion in his school community about applying, including with the parish council, finance council, and the home and school association.
“We thought this was a great step for maintaining the sustainability of our school,” he said.
St. Francis de Sales provided information to the Healey foundation, which then did a site visit. Healey officials wanted to make sure that the school was open to a new model of governance.
“What changes is the makeup of the board and the supervision of the principal,” Costante said.
Mary Elizabeth Muir, principal at All Saints Catholic School, is familiar with Healey from her time working in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The focus of her doctoral research was on the viability of Catholic education, particularly in an urban setting. The results of that research showed a need for collaboration.
“I think that this type of collaboration that they offer is essential,” she said.
In a meeting in February, school leaders from the diocese talked about collaborating with each other instead of competing. Every school has something unique to offer, she said.
“I think historically, Catholic schools have looked at taking of students from one school to another. We don’t have to be about that. There are plenty of students out there,” Muir said. “The best school is the school that fits your family. I always hope that it’s All Saints Catholic School.”
Healey’s support program will allow principals to focus more on being educational leaders, and it will allow the schools to avoid going to parents every time a need arises, Muir said.
Costante added that the “board of specified jurisdiction” will grow with members with various skill sets, such as legal, financial and marketing, for example.
The Healey foundation also will provide each school with partial funding for an advancement director. That is $25,000 in the first year and $12,500 in each of the subsequent two years.
Costante said Healey approaches the sustainability of Catholic education from a more modern perspective. It’s no longer about opening the doors of the school and hoping the students come. The foundation has a track record in recruiting, retention and marketing.
“Healey’s approach is kind of a long-term investment of changing that model” to increase viability,” he said.
In addition, Muir said, the foundation will train each school’s board members and provide bylaws. In All Saints’ case, the board will represent all four parishes that sponsor the school, and will be demographically and economically diverse.
“They’re helping us create a sustainable future,” she said.
Educational decisions, such as curriculum and the hiring of teachers, will remain in the hands of the individual schools, and De Angelo said the pastors will retain control of all spiritual matters at the school. The pastors also will be on the boards of specified jurisdiction.
In a statement, Bishop Malooly noted the importance of Catholic education in the diocese. He visits each of the 36 Catholic schools over the course of a year.
“Bringing best practices and new ideas to the participating schools will impact those schools, making them more sustainable to serve our children and their families,” he said. “It is our hope that by working with dedicated professionals at the foundation, we may come to fully maximize the potential of all our schools.”
De Angelo said several diocesan offices, including Finance and Development, are also included in this partnership.
“We’re all part of this, and the bishop is firmly behind it. We feel like it’s going to be the next best move for our schools,” he said.
“We feel that this is the right move at the right time for the schools that are involved and for the diocese as a whole because we’re going to benefit by learning with them.”
Robert T. Healey Sr., a New Jersey entrepreneur and philanthropist, started the Healey Education Foundation, now based in Mount Laurel, N.J., in 2004. It serves nearly 70 schools in six dioceses in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.