DeSales High School in Geneva recently announced a new, five-phase strategic plan designed to boost enrollment and secure the school’s future by integrating technology into the curriculum.
“We want DeSales to be one of the leading high schools for technology in this area,” said Charles Evangelista, the school’s director of advancement and development. “We’ve been behind, and I think a lot of Catholic schools have been behind. While I think we have really good fundamentals, it’s important that we get into the 21st century as far as education is concerned.”
The plan’s first phase included the late-February installation of a wireless network and the ordering of laptop computers for each teacher, Evangelista said. By fall 2007 the school also plans to install in classrooms interactive, electronic whiteboards and create a student-laptop program.
During the 2007-08 school year students will share several carts of laptops, and within two years school officials hope to have a laptop for every student, Evangelista said. These additions will give students and teachers real-time access to Web-based lesson plans and activities, and eventually school officials hope to give parents the ability to track students’ assignments and grades online.
Later phases of the plan include the development of internship programs with local businesses; online courses for students at DeSales and Catholic elementary schools in the region; and a new nonprofit job-training center called Diamond on the Lake Foundation, Evangelista said.
DeSales officials don’t necessarily expect this new technology alone to bring new students flocking to the school, Evangelista noted. Rather, potential students will be attracted to the school when they see how the technology additions have enhanced the school’s existing curriculum and given students a better education, he said.
“People aren’t going to come over here because they get a laptop. They’re going to come here because they know of a real example of a student who did very well,” Evangelista said.
Increasing DeSales’ enrollment is the ultimate goal of this new plan, he noted, but this goal only can be achieved by fulfilling the school’s mission of providing the best Catholic education possible.
“We’ve been trying to emphasize that we’re not just putting in the technology as a marketing tool. It’s not just for us to sell the school. It’s going to be results-driven. The best marketing we can have … is to have successful students at the end,” Evangelista added.
Tuition at DeSales will increase next year from $4,500 to $4,800, which has been planned for some time and has nothing to do with the new technology plan, Evangelista said. Funding for the new plan will not come from tuition, but from investors and donors. DeSales has secured funding for the initial phases of the new plan but is still looking for more investors for the later phases, he said.
There are currently 136 students enrolled at DeSales, which is the only Finger Lakes-area Catholic high school affiliated with the Diocese of Rochester. With enrollment numbers like this, Evangelista said it has been difficult in recent years for the school to generate enough revenue to meet its annual budget of about $1.5 million.
“We have really been operating in this hand-to-mouth, day-to-day, year-to-year existence, and we’re not unlike a lot of other Catholic schools. We can’t really exist that way. It’s a model that essentially is going to be a model for us to fail,” Evangelista said.
DeSales Principal Father Joseph A. Grasso, CPpS, and other school officials knew they needed to look to a new and different model. That’s why they hired Alex Urrea, senior adviser to Catholic University of America’s Center for the Advancement of Catholic Education, to help them develop a strategic plan.
“This plan is not about survival; it is about moving forward with a vision that takes DeSales’ wonderful legacy and preserves it,” Father Grasso said in a statement. “It is not about the technology; it is about leveraging the right technologies to enhance the students’ learning experiences and greatly improve our graduates’ chances for success in their future endeavors.”
DeSales and its students will not be the only ones to benefit from this plan, Evangelista noted. Once all the technology has been installed, the school hopes to use it in conjunction with its greatest resource — its faculty — to provide expanded curriculum offerings for students at Catholic schools in the Finger Lakes. Thanks to the Internet, Web cams and electronic whiteboards, for example, eighth-grade students might be able to participate in DeSales’ freshmen-level classes such as earth science and Math A without leaving their own schools, Evangelista said.
“Ultimately it’s going to be more of a seamless connection between our grammar schools and high school,” he said.
Through the Diamond on the Lake Foundation, school officials hope to possibly open the school facilities after hours and allow the community to utilize the school’s technology for such things as job training and workforce development, he added.
“If this is a successful pilot, it’s going to be a model for many Catholic grammar and high schools in this area, and maybe even nationally,” he said.