Principal meets challenges - Catholic Courier

Principal meets challenges

DANSVILLE — David Rausch has been on something of a roller-coaster ride ever since he became principal of Holy Family School. Yet thanks to his strong convictions about the value of Catholic education, Rausch has successfully managed some sharp curves.

In 2005, Rausch had just retired after 18 years as principal of Philadelphia Primary School in the Indian River Central School District near Watertown. Rausch, 57, said that after 33 years in public schools, he was excited to begin working in an environment that encourages "Christian attitudes and philosophies without any limitations." So, that fall, Rausch began making the long daily trip to Dansville down Interstate 390 from his home in Chili, a Rochester suburb in which he and his wife of nearly 37 years, Joan, belong to St. Pius Tenth Parish.

The drives have been quite worthwhile for Rausch. For instance, he said he has delighted in seeing Catholic and non-Catholic students recite the Lord’s Prayer together as well as take part in the school’s May Crowning ceremonies in the spring. Approximately 35 percent to 40 percent of Holy Family’s students are not Catholics.

"You would think that non-Catholic families would find this out of the ordinary, but there was no backlash at all," Rausch remarked.

However, problems related to economics and school enrollment did arise late in the 2005-06 school year. The school had not adjusted smoothly to a 2004 consolidation that saw the closing of St. Joseph’s School in Wayland and the renaming of St. Mary’s School in Dansville to Holy Family. At the time he accepted the principal’s job, "I really wasn’t aware of the depth of the issue," Rausch said.

Father Michael Schramel, who was then pastor of Holy Family Parish, sent a letter to parishioners in May 2006, stating that the projected 2006-07 enrollment was 62 students, and that he was not in favor of keeping the school open in view of the immense financial strain on the parish of subsidizing a school for so few students. The letter from Father Schramel — who left Holy Family in June 2006 to become administrator of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in the Rochester suburb of Gates — noted that he also had recommended closing the school in 2005, but that diocesan officials had encouraged him to keep the school going for another year.

Shortly after Father Schramel’s letter appeared in the parish bulletin, the parish pastoral council held a special meeting that drew approximately 100 people. Fifteen out of 20 council members voted to keep the school open, and Rausch concurred, noting that he had cut utility costs and other expenses, enabling Holy Family to break even last year.

"My recommendation was that we were turning the corner, and I needed to be given some time," Rausch said.

Father Schramel’s concern about the economic burden of the school on Holy Family Parish had arisen in part because a great majority of its students were not Catholics or were Catholics who did not regularly attend church. Yet after checking with the diocesan Department of Catholic Schools, Rausch said he learned that many diocesan schools had demographics similar to those of Holy Family.

"If (the percentage of practicing Catholics in the student body) were a determining factor, several of our schools would be looked at differently," said Rausch, who added that he maintained Holy Family School "should welcome families from other denominations who are looking for an alternative to the secular education required by the public schools."

Results of the special pastoral-council meeting were then passed on to Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who decided that Holy Family would indeed stay open in 2006-07. A three-year plan has been developed, with one of the focal points being a strong publicity push on the radio and in newspapers.

"We will continue to offer open house and other opportunities to showcase our school, as well as do service projects throughout the communities," Rausch said. He acknowledged that he has learned the immense importance for Catholic schools of public relations and marketing, which were not necessary in his public-school experience.

Strong financial support from the community also factors heavily. For example, a cash raffle this past fall raised $14,089 for Holy Family, eclipsing its set goal of $13,000. Rausch also was expecting a solid return from the school’s major fundraiser, The Valley Affair, which took place June 9.

"People were willing to work and work hard for (the school). We did everything we could," Rausch said.

This included accepting a tuition hike of 30 percent from the previous year: Tuition for 2006-07 was $2,600 for a single parishioner and $3,550 for a non-parishioner.

This school year began with 64 students in kindergarten through grade four — two more than anticipated in the original projections. The overall number rises to 92 when factoring in programs for 3-year-olds and pre-kindergarten students. Rausch said that as of early June, next school year’s enrollment was at 85.

"At this point, I would really like to get to 100, but 90 may be more attainable," he said. "I’m satisfied with the number of families who like what we do and what we stand for, and who have chosen to return."

He added that Holy Family’s parochial administrator, Father Stephen Karani (he has been appointed pastor, effective June 26), and the parish’s parochial vicar, Father Michael Twardzik, are supportive of the school and that school supporters do not fear its closing at this point.

"That bad word has not entered into the vocabulary at all," Rausch remarked.

He said many others share his enthusiasm.

"I enjoy being here; I work with some extremely dedicated people. I know the word ‘love’ gets bantered around, but I really love the people for what they do," Rausch stated. "The community that sends these children here (is) unbelievably supportive."

Rausch added that he’d like to be around to see Holy Family solidify its foundation.

"We’ve got challenges, and we’re going to meet those challenges. I’m very fortunate to be here; I’m blessed," he said. "I’ve revived my career here."


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