“If a school is in a tailspin financially and enrollment-wise, not many people will feel excited about being part of a losing proposition.... People like to bet on a winner.”
Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School (Philadelphia) is delivering another banner year. The 2016-17 boys and girls basketballs teams both again won PIAA state championships (the fourth consecutive year for the boys; the third for the girls).
Only two years into the school’s transformation, victories also abound in today’s vibrant classrooms and calmer corridors. Inconsistent expectations for learning outcomes have been replaced. The new status quo: a culture of respect, rigorous academics and increasing investment in a Catholic co-ed college prep school.
Leading with High Expectations
Bruce Robinson left retirement in 2014 to accept the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s biggest school turnaround challenge and serve as President of Neumann Goretti. The school’s enrollment of 450 students represents a decline of over 60% in the last decade.
His journey started with listening—to students, parents, faculty, alumni and community members. Many felt disenfranchised and dissatisfied. Change had to happen quickly.
“We’re now able to tell the story that we are serious about education, that we have instilled a rigorous academic environment into the school,” Robinson said. “When people can say, ‘Wow, look at all the good things that are happening at Neumann Goretti,’ they feel good about being part of that. And I think that’s where they are today.”
As he transitions from the role of President and continues serving on the Board of Directors in the coming months, Robinson will help ensure that the long-term vision for the school is realized. The Board has committed to ongoing development of Neumann Goretti to advance capacity, capabilities and outcomes.
A School Transformed
Neumann Goretti was the characteristic Catholic inner city school facing challenges of changing demographics and a new economy. The school’s cultural shift spanned organizational changes, the hiring of new teachers and introduction of innovative professional development and renewed relationships with parents and alumni. Neumann Goretti also established a new Board of Directors and more strategic outreach for enrollment and development.
Among the achievements reported in a recent update from the Board and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:
- Enrollment has steadily increased, with last year’s freshman class exceeding the prior year’s by 50% (the largest growth in five years).
- Neumann Goretti achieved a net transfer of 22 students from other high schools.
- The faculty receives approximately four times the number of hours and interactions for professional development than the average Archdiocesan high school teacher.
- Neumann Goretti has been the beneficiary of more than $750K over the past two and a half years from Foundations and through the Annual Fund toward enhancing educational experiences.
- The school is engaged in a rebranding effort for implementation in 2017-18.
- The building now features a computer learning lab and a student lounge for informal gatherings. The Class of 1952 funded Café 52.
A year into its work with Neumann Goretti via the partnership with Faith in the Future, the Healey Education Foundation selected the high school as recipient of its Founder’s Award for entrepreneurial leadership in implementing the Advancement Methodology. The school also achieved the highest percentage growth in enrollment by a Healey partner high school for the 2016-17 academic year, at 5.2%.
Taking Enrollment on the Road
In managing enrollment, Neumann Goretti High School takes extra steps to provide prospects with positive, reaffirming experiences. This customer service approach leads to a greater number of prospects, engaged families and, ultimately, registrants.
The school President and Admissions Director have been visiting more schools in an extended area than traditionally. After these initial visits, Neumann Goretti offers additional events that help build a relationship between the school and families. These include:
Scholarship/Entrance Exams: In a typical situation, parents would pay roughly $50 for the entrance exam, bring their child to the school on a Saturday morning and then wait several weeks for results. Neumann Goretti takes the Scholarship/Entrance Exam to the grade schools for free, during the school day, to as many students who would like the opportunity. Results are sent three days later.
Group Shadow Days: In a typical situation, parents would individually arrange for a student shadow day directly with the high school and provide two-way transportation on the scheduled day. Neumann Goretti schedules group shadow visits through the grade schools, providing two-way bus transportation to and from the grade schools. The visiting students shadow high school students who had graduated from their grade schools.
Based on these efforts and current enrollment data, Neumann Goretti anticipates a continued upward trend.
“Neumann Goretti’s leaders are true entrepreneurs. The extra time and resources invested in connecting with prospective students make a difference.”