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Southern San Mateo County Catholic schools booming

January 23, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

Catholic elementary schools in southern San Mateo County are bursting at the seams – most with each grade full to the maximum classroom size.

Burlingame Catholic schools are also on the enrollment upswing. And All Souls School, in the heart of South San Francisco, saw an enrollment spike over the past five years, up from 252 to 329 students this year.

“The last three years have been huge booms for us in terms of enrollment,” said Our Lady of Mount Carmel School principal Teresa Anthony.

“We are presently at capacity with a total school enrollment of 300 in grades kindergarten through eighth grade and we have waiting lists for most of our classes,” said St. Raymond School principal Dr. Tara Rolle. Maximum class size is 34 at the Menlo Park parish school, where grades K-5 have two teachers. St. Raymond has seen its enrollment grow from 244 in 2009-10 to 300 in the current 2014-15 school year.

Catholic school leaders attribute the rise in enrollment to an increase in families with young children in the area and the attraction of the Catholic values and academic excellence the schools offer.

“The greatest marketing is word of mouth,” said Carol Trelut, principal of the School of the Nativity in Menlo Park.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Pius schools in Redwood City, St. Charles in San Carlos, and St. Raymond and School of the Nativity are all experiencing increased demand with high enrollment and waiting lists.

Other San Mateo schools which saw big enrollment spikes over the past five years include St. Catherine of Siena in Burlingame with an increase from 287 to 322 in October 2014 and Our Lady of Angels, also in Burlingame, which had enrollment go from 313 to 384 in the same time period.

St. Pius School’s enrollment grew from 300 to 344 during the five-year span, according to archdiocesan statistics, recorded in October 2014.

“We are experiencing growth due to a number of young families seeking faith-based development for their children,” said St. Charles principal Maureen Grazioli. St. Charles School has waiting lists for four of the nine grades in the K-8 school, Grazioli said. “It also helps that our student achievement is high, particularly in reading, mathematics, science and social studies.”

In San Carlos, the area’s demographics have shifted from a graying population where the sidewalk rolled up at 5 p.m. to a city full of families, with fields full of picnics and soccer games, said St. Charles-San Carlos pastor Father David Ghiorso.

“I think the economy has really helped,” said Our Lady of Mount Carmel principal Anthony. “Redwood City is doing a tremendous amount of building and bringing in those tech companies, those startup companies.”

In addition, the school markets itself well, encouraging families to tell friends about the school and conducts tours twice a week. The school was established in 1885 and “attracts third and fourth generation families who bring along their friends from preschool,” she said. Newer Hispanic immigrants make up a large portion of the parish and their children are attending Mount Carmel, lending the school greater ethnic diversity, she said.

Mount Carmel parish supports the school with a second collection for tuition assistance, contributing $24,000 a year, Anthony said.

“I believe Catholic schools are seeing a positive increase in enrollment because school leaders are becoming more proficient at celebrating and promoting the strengths of Catholic education,” Rolle said, adding: “Catholic education will withstand the test of time because it is grounded in values-centered, mission-driven education for the whole child.”

The southern San Mateo County Catholic elementary schools trend runs counter to the aggregate archdiocesan statistics. The archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools recorded a drop in overall elementary school enrollment – although a rise in total high school enrollment (see Page 19). In October 2014, the Department of Catholic Schools recorded 257 fewer Catholic elementary school students compared to last year, counting students from preschool to grade 8. However, in San Mateo County, the total drop was just 31 students concentrated in areas closer to San Francisco.

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