- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Archdiocese of Omaha schools has seen an increase in student enrollment for the first time in 17 years, signaling the success of efforts to reverse a steady decline, according to school system officials.

This year, total enrollment in the 70-school Catholic system grew by 366 students, accounting for about a 2 percent increase. There currently are 19,277 students in kindergarten to 12th grade who are enrolled in the school system, compared to 18,911 students last year.

School officials haven’t identified the exact reasons for the growth, the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1UZE55R ) reports. But Superintendent Patrick Slattery, who announced the data at an annual event on Thursday night, cited several factors that helped in recent years, including marketing and transfer grant initiatives, the addition of a Latino school enrollment coordinator and simple word of mouth.

“I want to share in the excitement of the message,” Slattery said. “But the status quo will never cut it. We need to build on this now.”

Saints Peter and Paul School saw the archdiocese’s largest gain, adding 52 students to the roster this year. Principal Cory Sepich called the school’s growing enrollment a “blessing” and said it indicates that families are pleased with their children’s education.

“The No. 1 recruiting tool is a happy family,” he said. We have “a large Latino population and it’s a tight-knit community. They want cousins and best friends to go to the same school. Once we started to have some success, it took off from there.”

One of the most important factors in the school’s growth was the archdiocese’s decision to hire Beatriz Arellanes as the Latino school enrollment coordinator in February, Sepich said.

“The biggest thing that she’s done is be a welcoming personality to the Latino community in Omaha,” he said. “She’s helped steer (the families) and direct them and find the school that’s best for them.”

The Latino student population at Saints Peter and Paul School increased from 72 percent last year to 85 percent this year, he said.

Out of the 38 archdiocese schools in the Omaha metro area, 25 of them saw growth in student enrollment. The St. Thomas More and Holy Cross schools each grew by 46 students this year.

Now officials with Archdiocese of Omaha schools are hoping to see two consecutive years of increasing student enrollment.

“We want to keep that sustainable growth,” Sepich said. “Just going from good to great.”

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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