by PETER GRACE
A small Catholic school has been finding and using ideas to become more visible and to increase its roll.
St Joseph’s Catholic School in Grey Lynn is in an inner city suburb where the demographics have
Acting principal Lydia Victor told NZ Catholic that with properties in the area becoming increasingly more sought after, and more valuable, many residents over more recent years had cashed in.
One result was that St Joseph’s roll had dropped from around 200 in 2000 to the mid-70s now, and most pupils did not live locally. Some families also found a Catholic education too costly, especially if they had a number of children.
So, Mrs Victor said, the school team decided to consult parents, local retailers and businesses, staff and other parts of the local community.
“From that lots of ideas and opinions were brainstormed,” she said, “and one major aspect that came across was that a couple of new parents said, ‘We didn’t know that there was a school. We knew about the church, but didn’t know about the school.’”
The school is on Great North Rd, in a reasonably intensively developed semi-commercial area. Until June 25, it was quite easy to miss.
Mrs Victor said that as a result of the feedback, a marketing committee was formed to design signage to highlight the location of the school.
The sign and associated archway were unveiled and blessed on June 25.
They show, said Mrs Victor, the Maori pattern, an Indian pattern, a Pacific pattern, “everything that encompasses the multicultural aspect of Auckland” and then Faith, the Bible, the cross. What the school excels in. “And [what] makes us unique as members of St Joseph’s Catholic School, Grey Lynn.”
Mrs Victor acknowledged that increasing visibility was only part of the story.
“The first major reason for marketing; we want to increase our roll. That’s the biggest challenge,” she said.
Much of that is about changing perceptions. About helping people understand that a decile 4 rating does not say a school is an inferior school. “It’s about getting the community out there seeing the decile rating has got nothing to do with it.” McAuley High School in south Auckland was decile 1, and one of the region’s best colleges, Mrs Victor pointed out.
But how to grow the roll? “That’s the big dilemma at the moment.”
The school is open to any ethnicity. It has a few Indian and Filipino pupils.
“Other than that, we have got Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands, Maori kids. We do really well academically.”
To get the message out, they were trying a variety of approaches.
“We have started visiting local kindies. We have spoken at parish Masses, and the principal and chairperson [of the board of trustees] at the last deanery meeting.”
They have sent out flyers, gone house to house and put out brochures.
“We are in the process of revamping our website. We have conducted surveys at churches, asking what is it you want from your local school? What would you want from your school like us?”
The school has musical productions, inviting the community in. “We alternate it one year a musical and next it’s a gala night with dance and music of all the different cultures.”
Because pupils are being drawn from a wide area, some families see the fees, and contrast them with the much lower cost of state school attendance.
“Parents have got a strong faith,” Mrs Victor said. “They want to send their kids to a Catholic school, but it’s too expensive.”
The best thing though, she said, is pupils walk through the gates happy, “smiling and happy to be here, and they go out happy”.
by PETER GRACE