For generations, Catholic schools tended to operate independently as part of a local parish's mission. But in the Tampa Bay area, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has begun what might be called Catholic Schools 2.0 — an update of the traditional model. Seven of the area's "elementary schools" — K-8 — have joined together under one superintendent.
This means that while these schools retain their feel and character, many administrative functions have been consolidated under the diocese to save costs. So far, the only Pinellas school to make the change is Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park.
The effort is part of a five-year plan by the diocese to preserve and strengthen Catholic schools in the face of significant challenges, including declines in enrollment, religious staff and revenue.
Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos said the process will continue in coming years. So far, no schools have closed in the restructuring. But with changing demographic trends, it's possible.
Schools in the diocese attract Catholics, but "we also have non-Catholics who believe and value Catholic education," he said. The schools also tend to have more lay teachers.
The economy has not made it easy for parents to afford a private education, but Vazquez-Matos said $1 million has been raised for tuition assistance. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which pays private school tuition for qualifying low-income students, also has allowed more families to send their children to Catholic schools, he said.