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Utah Catholic schools buck national trends, keep thriving

Published: Sunday, July 13 2014 5:10 p.m. MDT

While local schools have had to adjust to shrinking numbers, those who work for them are positive about their future.

"I'm going to say positively we will still be here," said Kathleen Lemmert, secretary of Christ Lutheran School in Murray, who has been with the school for 18 years.

Future remains bright

Education is one of the missions of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which means all parishes donate a portion of their revenues toward education, even parishes without Catholic schools nearby.

Even with some money from the diocese, all Catholic schools are responsible for the bulk of their costs. Utah's Catholic schools are primarily funded through tuition and fundraising.

Some of Utah's Catholic schools are struggling to remain fully occupied, she said, especially those that only serve one parish. This wasn't the case 25 years ago when most of the schools were filled to capacity with people on waiting lists.

The schools are selective in who can be admitted and tend to have an academic focus; in recent years, local schools have begun admitting those with low to moderate learning disabilities, Sister Kamphaus said.

On average, 25 percent of Utah's Catholic school students adhere to other faiths like Judaism, Buddhism, and Mormonism. Parent surveys for schools in the state show that most are drawn to the school first by the academics, second by the safe environment and third by the faith-based atmosphere, Sister Kamphaus said.

For Cindy Lowder, who enrolled her three sons in St. Joseph Catholic Schools in Ogden, the appeal lies in the school's cohesion.

“It’s more than a community. It’s more like a family,” she said.

Lowder, also a graduate of St. Joseph's, said she appreciates how the teachers take one-on-one time to teach and tutor the students.

"Those teachers want to be there," she said. "It's a huge sacrifice, and I think it's something that everyone has to choose."

Although Catholic school teachers receive a "thinner wage" than some of their teaching peers, they have been able to help students achieve educational excellence, Russell said.

School choice gives families many options, and that often means transfers from one school to another.

“It was a nice experience. It just didn’t meet our expectations academically," said Jon Fletcher, who at one point had all of his children attending St. John the Baptist or itssister school Juan Diego High School in Utah, but made a change.

He said his family moved from Boston five years ago and, after spending time at another private school in Utah, their children were enrolled in Catholic schools. Although he was able to afford the cost of the school, he said he didn't think they were getting the value out of the money they spent on tuition. He said he was also disappointed that the local parish and school did not have a closer relationship.

He moved all of his children to Draper Park Middle, a local public school, with the exception of his oldest daughter who is at the University of Utah as part of an early enrollment program and taking a final theology class during her senior year at Juan Diego.

Aquilla said she is happy with the academics at St. John the Baptist and notes there are two teachers per class for most of the day, a full-day kindergarten and assignments that continue through the summer.

"Are there better private schools out there? I'm sure there is," she said, but she is happy with how the school promotes faith and involves families.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com,

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