Can the Body of Christ Get Too Big?

by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 2 yrs ago

I want to ask a real honest question here.  It’s one we have been asking ourselves for over 15 years.  Can a high school get too big?  When I became principal of Roncalli in 1990 members of the board that hired me told me that they were not going to micromanage the school but they did have one request.  They wanted me to hire a Director of Development.  I quickly responded, “I’m happy to do that.  What’s a Director of Development?”

As I began to study the answer to this question, I quickly realized that Roncalli was dreadfully behind in this important component of the operation of a successful Catholic high school.  We were, in fact, the only Catholic high school in the area that had no Development Office.  One of the best decisions I ever made was to hire Bob Tully as our first Director of Development.  In May of 1990 our enrollment was at 620 students.  As Bob and I talked about what we needed to do at Roncalli we soon realized that the quickest way to generate funds needed for the school’s operation was to attract the other 200 students that the school had previously held. 

And so began our formal system of marketing our school with an eye toward better telling the hundreds of success stories of our students and teachers to our broader community.  We revamped the way we invited students from our South Deanery grade schools and their families to consider making the substantial investment required to be a part of Roncalli.  We advertised on billboards and newspapers.  Most importantly however, we continued to build upon the outstanding quality of the experience of our students.  Our students and our parents had a great story to tell when others asked them about their experience at Roncalli.  As a result of these efforts our enrollment began to grow.  And then it began to mushroom!

As we grew from 600 back to 800 and then to 900 and then to 1,000 all of us – faculty, administration, board members -  constantly asked ourselves the question “Can we maintain all of the good things about our school that people are seeking out as we grow to these higher numbers?”  Our biggest concern has always been that as the school gets larger it becomes easier for students to fall through the cracks and to get lost in the shuffle.  We have aggressively sought ways to get students involved in the extra-curricular life of the school and this involvement has been a real key to students having a successful experience at Roncalli.

Now for the second year in a row our enrollment has eclipsed 1,100 and it seems as if we are slowly marching towards 1,200.  There is indeed a deep thirst for the unbelievable educational experience offered by our school community.  Roncalli remains one of the finest high schools in the nation.  People want what we are offering. We continue to primarily serve members of our Catholic community as our student body is still over 95% Catholic.  We feel that it is the heart of our mission to serve the Catholic families of the South Deanery.  If there are 2,000 kids from those families who want a Roncalli education I have always firmly believed that God would show us how to do that and do it well. 

Having said that, I want to let you know that we have taken the extraordinary step this year of implementing an interview and selection process for students coming to us from schools other than our South Deanery grade schools.  After decades as an “open enrollment” school taking everyone who applied, we have begun the process of being more selective in our enrollment of students who have not attended our local Catholic grade schools.  The desired affect of this decision is not to limit the number of students at the school though the selection process may well have that effect.  Our real desire is that all families who enroll at Roncalli have the understanding that first and foremost we are a school that celebrates our faith.  We are looking to encourage families to not only embrace this faith-based component of our work but to, in their own special way, allow the body of Christ to grow at Roncalli through their own family’s contribution to the spiritual life and vitality of the school.

Can a high school get too big?  I think that is possible.  Can the Body of Christ get too big?  I don’t think God wants us to put any limit on that.  We are trying to find the balance and we believe the interview and selection process we have implemented will help us do that.  Please pray for us and our students as we seek God’s will for our school.  And thank you for your unrelenting support of Roncalli!

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