Fundraisers Help Save a Mound Catholic School

A community rallies to keep its beloved school open and thriving.
Teacher Laurie Herder, left, and student Rachel Thurk at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School.

Just two years ago, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School in Mound was on the verge of closing. In December 2012 parents and faculty were notified that the current academic year would be the school’s last. Unable to fathom life without their beloved school, parents, parishioners and community members banded together to raise $400,000 in less than six weeks to keep the doors open.

In the late 2000s, as the economy continued its freefall, so did enrollment numbers at the small Catholic school for preschool through eighth-grade students. Saddled with debt and no marketing strategy to speak of, and fighting to pull new students from an aging population, Our Lady of the Lake stood little chance of survival.

Poor enrollment and financial constraints are issues that continue to plague Catholic schools across the country. School officials are facing the harsh economic reality that families just can’t afford tuition. Nationwide, Catholic school enrollment has fallen 23.2 percent since 2004, with 1,856 schools closing or consolidating.

Today, unlike so many other schools, Our Lady of the Lake is thriving. Instead of becoming part of the trend, the school board, made up of parents and community members, led a fundraising charge. It took only 30 days to garner $300,0000 in donations from people who love Our Lady of the Lake. Another $100,000 came in through prepaid tuition.

Says Kirk Geadelmann, chair of Our Lady of the Lake school board and parent to two students and one alumnus, “We told the story about why we think it’s important to keep the school open.”

The school has been so important to Geadelmann and his family that he couldn’t imagine life without it. But he and the rest of the board also knew it would take more than passion to keep their school alive.

Once the money had been raised, the school reopened with 83 students in the fall of 2013. It was a far cry from the 200 enrollees the school had in the past, but it’s a number that continues to grow. Enrollment currently sits at 117, seven more than the goal of 110.

Dr. Constance Krocak, principal of Our Lady of the Lake, couldn’t be happier with the numbers. “We don’t ever need to be at that 200 number again,” she says. Krocak points to the aging population with fewer young families as the reason for smaller attendance numbers, but is encouraged by the recent growth.

With solid attendance in place, the school board was able to pay off the school’s debt and institute a new marketing campaign while still retaining the original $300,000 raised through donations; roughly $100,000 was used to fund school events. The money exists as a savings fund, as annual fundraising initiatives keep the school open and financially secure.

To further cement Our Lady of the Lake’s future, school officials implemented a new curriculum. The heart of a Catholic school is always its Christian beliefs, but Krocak and the school board wanted to make academic excellence a priority.

In order to separate their school from others, they instituted blended learning, a style that focuses on a combination of digital, face-to-face and practicum learning. By using a program called i-Ready, an online diagnostic tool, teachers create a more individualized curriculum. Instead of bringing lessons home to work on, students take online diagnostic tests to gauge their understanding of a subject. Teachers then use class time to work one-on-one with students on lessons tailored specifically to the child’s skill level.

“We can see the growth daily,” says third- and fourth-grade teacher Laurie Herder.

Between the 21st-century learning style and its current financial health, any questions about the school’s long-term viability have been answered. The uncertainty is gone. The foundation is built. And everyone is looking ahead to a bright future.

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic School
2385 Commerce Blvd., Mound