A wooden crucifix adorns the wall of this eighth-grade history classroom at Saint Bernadette Catholic School — with a web-connected touch-controlled electronic white board hanging directly below the cross.
As they prepare for the upcoming academic year, a new principal, Peter Barile, and new assistant principal, Ed Goad, are looking to 21st century educational tools like those Smart Boards, to brand St. Bernadette’s as a “fully technology-based school” — and reverse a regional slide in parochial school enrollment.
Barile and Goad ascended to the top positions at the 150-student school earlier this month. They have since developed a plan for Saint Bernadette’s future, to build on the traditional religious curriculum and values with marketing and technology. Part of the strategy mirrors what non-parochial private schools have done for many years.
“We want to be on the leading edge,” Barile said.
The technology push fits in with the most recent Ministerial Plan issued by the Archdiocese of Hartford, which states: “Students in our classrooms are part of a digital generation; therefore, we must embrace best practices that include the integration of 21st century literacies and technologies.”
Saint Bernadette Catholic School lies behind Saint Bernadette Church on Townsend Avenue, with a connection between the buildings that means, Barile said, the students never have to walk through the rain to get to mass. The classes span kindergarten through the eighth grade, with 70 percent of students coming from parishioner families.
Barile is not a newcomer to the job. He held the principal position from 2006 to 2009, when he had intended to retire. A desire to give back to the church, and the opening created when the previous principal left in April, led to his return to the post. He has also served as the superintendent of schools in Monroe and Madison.
Barile began working with Goad eight years ago, when he hired him to teach eighth grade at St. Bernadette. Though neither Barile nor Goad attended parochial school as children, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Hartford Dale Hoyt said Barile is “one of those people that I truly believe will make a difference in Catholic education.”
Since the Office of Catholic Schools, led by Hoyt, presents the schools within the diocese with a detailed curriculum, Barile and Goad’s own plans for Saint Bernadette focus on developing the school’s technology and marketing.
“I can’t tell you I’m going to implement changes yet,” Barile said. “My expectation is to carry on what was done.”
Parochial School, Pixelated
On a separate table from the 17 desktops in the computer lab, two charging units hold ten iPads each, with over 30 more located elsewhere in the school.
Every student already has access to a school iPad. Goad said the eventual goal under the new technology strategy is to have enough tablets for all the students to use their own. Then, the students could use e-textbooks during class, for example.
“Kids’ heads are glued to their cell phones,” Goad said, so he sees technology as a way to better communicate information. The Smart Boards in the classrooms also help teachers integrate internet and multimedia into their lesson plans.
The faculty will undergo formal technology training before the school year starts on Aug. 27, Barile said, so teachers can continue to learn about new programs and devices.
“I want every student as they graduate to know they are fully technology-oriented in every way possible … doing everything they can in technology so they can communicate in every way possible,” he said.
When asked whether Saint Bernadette can move to the forefront of digital education, Hoyt said, “Anything is possible.”
“There’s a lot of technology at Saint Bernadette but technology is changing,” Hoyt added. “I think it’s a great vision Dr. Barile has, but it’s going to take a lot of work with the school board, grant writing, foundations, and even local resources from the New Haven city.”
Barile — who started teaching in 1965 — learned to type on a Royal typewriter, using “hunt and peck” methodology.
He said he learned the importance of using technology well for education when he was earning his doctorate at New York University from 1968-71. Rioters during a Vietnam War protest destroyed the computer lab where he kept his dissertation drafts and research with the other doctoral candidates. Other students lost their body of work; some couldn’t graduate on time. “There were tears rolling on a whole lot of people.” Barile had backed up all his work on a second set of computer cards — so he was able to graduate on time.
“Just Got Lou”
“While you guys are talking, we add more people,” Goad said as he reentered the room when Barile finished describing his dissertation drama.
“Who’d you get?” Barile asked.
“Just got Lou, in the 7th grade,” Goad responded. Barile shook his hand and congratulated him.
Guaranteeing enrollment has remained on the forefront of Barile and Goad’s minds. Barile described how their newly-revised, multi-year marketing plan encompasses strategy for soliciting both donations and new students.
The need for a strategic marketing approach is necessary at a time when Catholic schools — elementary schools especially — are closing with more rapidity than ever.
According to the National Catholic Education Association 2014 Annual Statistical Report, the number of students enrolled in Catholic schools nationally declined by 22.7 percent. And 23 percent of Catholic schools nationally were closed or consolidated.
Barile pointed to the strong Connecticut public school systems as an added reason for families to decline to pay Saint Bernadette’s roughly $5,000 annual tuition. He added that the number of Catholics in the Connecticut area may be declining as well.
“A truism now is how Catholic [schools], as with all private schools, are working hard to support themselves,” Barile said. “You don’t get any public support. You have to work hard to be an entity of education and an entity of the church.”
Hoyt echoed these challenges, and emphasized the need for Catholic schools in the diocese, especially in New Haven, to focus on three critical areas for development that align closely with Barile and Goad’s plans: enrollment management, marketing and financing
The school receives grants from the Archbishop and Saint Bernadette Church for financial aid to families. In the aftermath of the recession and the greater enrollment struggles Catholic schools face, Barile and Goad look to create more formal development and admissions processes.
This marketing plan includes structural changes, such as creating a more streamlined solicitation system to better target alumni and parishioners for donations. Barile also wants give the annual golf tournament, wine-tasting at Anthony’s Ocean View and other fundraising events designated leadership and publicity.
The strategy does not ignore the school’s relationship with the church. Barile said integrating the children more into the parish, whether it be through chorus or through exhibits of their artwork in the vestibule, will not only benefit the students, but also show parishioners the direct effect their donations would have.
Goad says in the eight years he has been at the school, the volume of touring prospective students has never been as high as this summer, when faculty show around 30 families around the two hallways each week.
Other elements of the marketing strategy include distributing 100 window clings, and possible T-shirts to sell. Barile also mentioned an ad he took out in a Shoreline newspaper.
“We have to offer high quality and the Catholic identity. You have to give [families] a good reason [to enroll their children at Saint Bernadette],” Barile said. “That’s the challenge. But it’s a good challenge.”
The ultimate aim of marketing to possible students, Goad added, is to communicate that Saint Bernadette is “a true high school prep school,” readying eighth graders for entrance into Sacred Heart High School or Notre Dame Catholic High School.
Barile and Goad were not shy about their hopes for the future of the school’s leadership. With Goad interested in becoming a principal himself, Barile said he plans to mentor the man he views as a son — though not necessarily a threat on the golf course — to take over his job “in a very short while.”
“We’re like the New York Giants; we’re ready to go.” Barile said. “I wish the Yankees would rebuild the team better, the way we’re rebuilding.”