Students at Cathedral School prepare for their afternoon lessons.

While the St. Joseph School District has been conducting various demographic and facilities studies since January, Catholic schools in the area also are looking into what they can do to combat lower enrollment numbers.

It’s a concern that may lead to some operational changes in the future.

Bernard Dumond, president and CEO of the consultant group Development Innovations 360, has worked with Catholic schools and parishes for more than 20 years. He was brought on to create a clearer vision for the future.

In May 2019, Dumond conducted an assessment of each of St. Joseph’s Catholic schools (Cathedral, St. James, St. Francis Xavier and Bishop LeBlond) to judge their overall vitality, which includes leadership, finances and academics, among other categories.

“We’re looking at facilities, fundraising, marketing, enrollment — all those issues are on the table. And it’s not as if we’re in a crisis mode,” Dumond said. “The enrollment trend in these schools is downward, but that’s only one indicator.

“I went to each school and interviewed folks, and then we created a collaborative steering committee with members from each school and parish,” he said. “So there are about seven parishes represented and then representatives from each school.”

The next step in his process is hosting listening sessions across various parishes in the community. The sessions will continue throughout the month of October and will focus on community input.

So far, around eight sessions have been held, and Dumond said he has appreciated the feedback.

“(The schools) are just doing a great job academically preparing these students for high school, college and then (students’) lives beyond. The second thing we’re hearing is that the schools do a really good job with values and religious education,” he said. “I think that concerns in terms of improvements, are our finances. How can we do a better job with working together on finances, staffing, enrollment, marketing and fundraising? Those are the issues that have continued to come up in terms of operations.”

After gathering that feedback, Dumond will help guide the steering committee on discussions about what’s working, what needs to be improved and what is the vision for the future of Catholic schools.

That data will help the schools know what to focus on in terms of operational models going forward. One model that could be proposed, for example, is having one elementary, middle and high school all on Bishop LeBlond’s campus. A new governance style with a singular head across all schools also could be on the table, Dumond said.

However, this early in the discussions nothing is final.

“No school is being threatened to close. We’re not doing any of that. It’s not that kind of discussion,” Dumond said. “I think that the fundamental area is to find out what’s going on here. What’s going on in our schools? How can we make it better? And how can we collaborate to be schools of vitality?”

Rebecca Evans, principal at Cathedral of St. Joseph, said that feedback is absolutely vital moving forward.

“People coming together and giving us feedback, it’s a positive thing for us,” she said. “And we definitely know that we need to collaborate. We are one Catholic community here in St. Joseph.”

She encouraged community members to come and give their feedback during the listening sessions, saying that families, teachers, grandparents and great-grandparents all can contribute to the conversation.

The last two listening sessions will be held after 11 a.m. Mass Sunday, Sept. 15, at Our Lady of Guadalupe, 4503 Frederick Blvd.; and after 10:30 a.m. Mass Sunday, Sept. 29, at St. Rose of Lima, 707 S. Hall Ave., in Savannah, Missouri.

Catholic schools in the area will hold a vitality summit in February 2020 to go over various operational models with the public as they seek more targeted input.

Daniel Cobb can be reached

at daniel.cobb@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowCobb.