The following comes from a November 3 Angelus article by Kevin Theriault:
Ask Kevin Baxter what he thinks about the current state of Catholic schools and the response you hear is likely to contain the words “hopeful” and “optimistic.”
Baxter is senior director and superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and is also newly appointed to the board of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). He recently returned from the NCEA’s annual Catholic Leadership Summit filled with a sense of hopeful optimism about the state of Catholic schools.
He notes that Catholic school news has been tough in some parts of the country, with areas in the Northeast and in the Midwest really struggling, but believes that overall enrollment growth could be led by areas of burgeoning Catholic populations, such as in California, Arizona and Texas.
Catholic school enrollment has fallen to its lowest point since the 1920s, according to Baxter, with under two million students enrolled nationwide. That is down from a peak of about 5.5 million students in the mid-1960s. “We’d love to see that number climb over 2 million and begin to tick in the other direction,” said Baxter.
“We’ve got a lot of Catholics here, and that is one of the reasons why we are very optimistic, both within the state of California and within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, that we’ve got potential for growth,” Baxter said.
Baxter is optimistic that the quality Catholic schools produce can drive enrollment. He believes it comes down to two core areas: Catholic identity/faith formation and academic excellence.
He noted the importance of strong faith formation of students, but also in ensuring that teachers and principals are fully formed in the faith and that Catholic identity is very strong at the schools. “We feel that if that’s present, that’s a huge asset for the school,” he said.
While Catholic identity is a core issue, Catholic schools are open to everyone, Catholic or not.
“That’s just who Catholic schools have always been, that we would accept everyone,” Baxter said. His favorite line about this challenge is from a friend: “We don’t mind that you’re not Catholic as long as you don’t mind that we really are,” which reflects that “we are open to them, but we always have to be true to who we are.”