In the past five years, the number of students at a Center Grove area private school has nearly tripled.
Founded only a decade ago, SS. Francis & Clare Catholic School has expanded from kindergarten and first-grade classes to teaching students through eighth grade. In 2011, it had 192 students. This fall, 557 are enrolled.
A growing Greenwood population and parish, along with an increased interest in private school education, is what has fueled the school’s rapid growth, SS. Francis & Clare Catholic School Principal Betty Popp said.
All four private schools in Johnson County reported higher enrollment numbers this school year, and some have or are going to expand to keep up with increasing enrollment in the past five years. Roncalli High School, which draws many students from Johnson County, also had higher enrollment this year.
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While some of the growth could be attributed to the state school voucher program, which uses tax dollars to help pay private school tuition for families who meet income requirements, enrollment has exceeded the amount of additional voucher students schools are receiving. At four out of the five area private schools, enrollment growth outpaced the increase in students receiving vouchers.
For example, at Greenwood Christian Academy, which serves students from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12, enrollment increased by 48 students this school year, while the number of voucher students was down by seven.
“I think people are looking for a strong Christian education with strong academics,” Greenwood Christian Academy Superintendent Bruce Peters said. “We have all kinds of people who are interested in private education.”
Peters highlighted the school’s fine arts and extracurricular programs, along with small class sizes as part of its draw to area families.
Now, the school is planning a classroom expansion for the 2018-2019 school year to keep up with enrollment growth, he said.
The two-story classroom expansion would wrap around the gymnasium, Peters said. School officials are in the preliminary stages of planning for the project, he said. Details such as the cost of the project have not been determined.
Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic School also added an additional 48 students this school year, bringing its enrollment to 378, its highest since it had 402 students in 2012. The school has a target of 375 to 400 students, principal Kent Clady said.
Many of the students at the school come from families attending the parish, which serves a large Hispanic population, Clady said.
The school had an increase of 14 students with vouchers this year, and he thinks the number of voucher students has plateaued at 141 this year based on current trends.
While a common criticism of school vouchers is that the program takes students away from public schools, private school administrators say the students benefiting from the vouchers are often ones already enrolled in their schools.
While the voucher program has helped some students choose to attend St. Rose of Lima in Franklin, many of those who use vouchers were already attending the school, principal Rebecca Floyd said.
A similar trend has happened at Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic School, Clady said.
“Students that are already enrolled are getting the vouchers,” he said.
Many students who attend local Catholic schools will likely find their way to Roncalli High School, which primarily draws students from 10 Catholic grade schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Two years ago, the Archdiocese also was considering adding a new Catholic high school in the area, but no decisions have been made.
The school is already prepared for an expected influx of students in the next couple of years, Roncalli High School Director of Admissions Allie Ross said.
Six classrooms were added last year to ensure every teacher has their own room, she said. Several teachers needed to share classrooms before.
Because Roncalli knows what schools its students will likely be coming from, it typically is able to have a good sense of what its enrollment figures will be in future years, Ross said.