Bay Area Catholic schools see jump in enrollment after years of decline

Nationwide, enrollment in Catholic schools is rebounding after years of decline. Schools in the Bay Area are seeing this trend too. 

This week the National Catholic Educational Association said enrollment increased at Catholic schools by 62,000 students nationwide, according to the Associated Press. That's the first increase in two decades and the biggest increase in at least five decades. 

Many parents are choosing to leave public schools for private schools because of the pandemic. 

"We are big believers in public education, and I certainly thought public education would be where I would be sending our kids," said Alameda resident Rohit Reddy. 

But Reddy said he lost faith in the Alameda School District after watching his son learn over Zoom day after day last school year. 

"Alameda public schools, they had among the lowest in-class instruction time," he said. "I don’t think public schools have our kid’s best interests at heart." 

Reddy turned to St. Joseph, a Catholic school in Alameda. It's a switch a lot of parents have been doing, even without a negative remote learning experience. 

Carey Ragni said she started her daughter in transitional kindergarten at St. Mary in Walnut Creek partly due to the pandemic.

"I was kind of concerned about some of the public school district’s decisions last year and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to be getting into this year," said Ragni. "I am not the only parent that made this decision based on the pandemic. I would say at least a quarter of the students that I’ve talked to are here because of that reason."

After decades of steady decline, the Diocese of San Jose saw enrollment hold flat this school year. The Archdiocese of San Francisco saw a two percent jump, and the Diocese of Oakland saw a seven percent spike. 

"Catholic school enrollment has been on a national decline since 1960," said Andrew Currier, Superintendent of the Diocese of Oakland Catholic Schools. "I think people saw that there was a real commitment to the health and well-being of children, and that meant being in school. I think that was a major bonus for us." 

Currier said the increase in students is exciting, but he hopes these families are in it for the long run. 

"We want to make sure that the people that are choosing Catholic education are choosing it for the right reasons, for a faith-based, value-based education where they have to go to mass, they’re in religion class," said Currier.

Although it's a big financial sacrifice, parents are seeing the value in it. 

Greg Brown-Davis said he's seen tremendous academic growth in his first-grader at St. Mary since moving her from a public school. And he also likes belonging to a smaller, private community. 

"There’s a lot less red tape, you don’t have to negotiate with the district, with the union, you get to make decisions as an independent entity," said Brown-Davis.

Brown-Davis is also a teacher at De La Salle Catholic High School. He said they're seeing a lot of transfer students there as well.

But it's not just families turning to Catholic schools. For those same reasons, Ashley Shryack moved her daughters from public school to a private Christian school in Concord last year. 

"Even before the pandemic, we were not liking the direction the public schools were taking. They had really large class sizes that were getting bigger," said Shryack. "When the pandemic hit, we did a few months of the distance or remote learning, and it just added so much stress to like our home life. And it was really hard on them not being able to socialize and do their drama and their sports and things."

These parents said even when the pandemic is not an issue anymore, it would be hard to go back to public school.