State of the Schools: A Report on Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Washington

May 23, 2007

State of the Schools: Looking to the Future

Mr. Thomas Burnford, Secretary for Education, Archdiocese of Washington

The hands shot wildly into the air. You would have thought these second graders were vying to be the first onto the playground for recess, but they actually were volunteering to read aloud to their class. This time it happened to be Ms. Felix’s class at St. Gabriel School in Washington, D.C., but no matter how often I walk into one of our Catholic school classrooms, I see the same kind of enthusiasm.

Our students really are excited about learning – even with the end of the year in sight – and clearly are happy to be in their Catholic schools. They know their teachers care about them and want them to succeed. By that I don’t mean just scoring well on a test, though more than 75 percent of students in Archdiocesan schools do score above proficiency in national testing. I mean succeeding as people of faith and character.

That is important because that is the mission of our Catholic schools: not only to give the students an excellent academic education, but to pass on our faith and prepare our children for a life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our Schools Today

We see Catholic values in school after school, whether it’s Archbishop Carroll High School where students collect and deliver more than 53,000 pounds of groceries each Thanksgiving for families in need, or St. Jerome in Hyattsville which emphasizes and encourages volunteer service for all students starting in Pre-K, or at St. Mary’s in Bryantown where student-made crafts have brightened the day of hospice residents in need of a little care.

Nearly 32,000 students attend 108 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington (81 of the schools are operated by the Archdiocese and its parishes). These students learn from outstanding educators such as Marguerite Conley, the principal of Annunciation in Washington, D.C., who was one of only 18 principals in the entire metropolitan region to receive a Distinguished Educational Leadership Award from the Washington Post this year, and DeMatha history teacher, Richard Machiski, who was honored with the 2007 Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award.

They are joined by other outstanding teachers across the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese has established partnerships with a number of colleges and universities, including The Catholic University of America, College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, Marymount, Montgomery College, Howard University and Johns Hopkins, to offer tailor-made professional development programs for our Catholic school teachers. Some programs are even offered on-site in our schools, making it easier than ever for our teachers to continue to strengthen their skills.

This year also brought the establishment of the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools Consortium, a national model of collaboration between six dioceses located in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Consortium’s mission is to support the vital role that Catholic schools play in faith formation, strengthen and improve the structure and governance of the schools and ensure long-term and government financial support for them.


There is a lot of good news in our schools. Yet, we also face many challenges.

Our Archdiocesan schools have 2,035 faculty members, and it costs nearly $133 million to run these schools. Tuition only covers about 71 percent of that total cost. That means the Archdiocese, parishes and donors must fill in the gap. Like so many family budgets, resources are stretched tight.

Many schools were established 40 or 50 years ago or more. The religious communities who once staffed numerous schools are not able to do so now. Salaries have increased, as has tuition, though we work hard to keep our schools affordable. (Public policy initiatives such as tax credits that would help families who choose a non-public school have not been successful in the Maryland legislature to date while a pilot federal scholarship program provides just limited support in the District. This lack of support by elected officials is surprising considering the nearly $386 million in annual tax savings that result from the 108 Catholic schools.)

As the buildings age, they require more maintenance. In addition, neighborhood demographics have shifted as families move to new communities or have fewer children. Our schools also need to respond to changing cultural needs.

We are undertaking a study of many of our city schools. The Center City Consortium schools have been incredibly successful academically, with student achievement in reading improving 61 percent and in math, 88 percent over a five-year period. Yet, these schools face critical financial issues. Over the past 10 years, $60 million has been invested in these schools by the Archdiocese, Consortium Board and other donors.

Sadly, because of the above issues, especially costs and declining enrollments, four schools in or near Washington, D.C. will consolidate with neighboring schools at the end of this year. Yet, at the same time, schools in other areas are full or have waiting lists. Last fall, St. Raphael in Rockville opened an elementary school and in January, Good Counsel High School, a XaverIan school, moved to a larger new campus. Next fall, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School opens its doors in Takoma Park as a collaborative project of the Archdiocese of Washington, Salesians and Cristo Rey Network. In addition, Holy Redeemer School in Washington, D.C. will be reinvigorated by an innovative partnership with the University of Notre Dame.

Looking to the Future

The Archdiocese of Washington is committed to sustaining affordable, accessible, Catholic education into the future. To be successful, we need to be proactive and together look at our schools and our educational needs across the Archdiocese.

For this reason, Archbishop Donald Wuerl and the Priest Council have called for a Convocation on Catholic Education. On October 5, 2007, Archbishop Wuerl will gather with principals, clergy, parish and finance council representatives, school board members, catechetical leaders and Archdiocesan staff to discuss as a group the mission, challenges and future of Catholic education. This convocation will be the cornerstone of broader strategic planning and the development of a comprehensive educational strategy for our schools.

While the school year may be drawing to a close for our families, the planning for the future is not. This summer, we will be deep in preparations for the Convocation. We are asking our educational leaders to prepare by identifying and discussing key issues and then raising questions that will form the basis of the discussion at the Convocation itself.

As a parent or parishioner, each of us has a stake in the future of our schools and, most importantly, the future of our children and youth. For this reason, we want to hear from you, as well. We will keep you informed and, as we go forward, provide an opportunity for input through our website,

Please keep our students in prayer, as well as the work of the Convocation. May you have a blessed summer.

Catholic Schools at a Glance

All schools (Archdiocesan/independent)
• 108 schools
• 31,991 students

Archdiocesan-owned schools
• 81 schools
• 20,178 students
• $132.8 million (29% subsidized by Archdiocese, parishes and donors)

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]