WESTMINSTER — At a time when many Catholic schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese and across the nation face declining enrollment, St. John School, with just eight classrooms, turns prospective students away.
St. John, established in 1866 and the only Catholic school in Carroll, has a waiting list of 15 to 20 students for each of the grades, one through five.
"Some principals are stressed out about where their enrollment isgoing to come from," said Principal Patricia M. Brink. "I have to worry about who our admissions committee is going to turn away."
This "interesting phenomenon," as Brink calls it, has occurred despite an average classroom size of 33 students, fewer modern technological tools (the school only has three computers) and a yearly tuition billof $1,200 for one student.
To some extent, the school, celebrating National Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, has benefited from urban sprawl and a growing Catholic population in a once predominantly Methodist county.
"St. John is in an area that is continuing to grow," said Lawrence Callahan, superintendent of the 101 schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese. "We feel very good about St. John. Thereare a number of teachers that have been there for many years, and that's an asset to any school."
Callahan said that stability is evident in high student test scores. Students, he noted, have gone on to successful academic careers at Carroll's public high schools. (St. John only serves students in grades one through eight. The Catholic high school closed two decades ago because of declining enrollment.)
Brink credits St. John's success to the school's small size, a solid curriculum that includes daily religious instruction and a form of discipline based on mutual respect. While stories of sisters cracking rulers on the knuckles of disruptive students are legend, they are a thing of the past.
"I'm soft-spoken. But the kids know I mean business," Brink said.
Like Brink, the school's instructional staff -- 11 full-time and seven part-time teachers -- are lay persons -- 88 percent have master's degrees. The only sisters at the school are a secretary and a librarian.
With 265 students, St. John is bursting atthe seams. The archdiocese is studying the need for another elementary school and a high school in Carroll. The parish is raising money for a $1.5 million multipurpose room and computer lab. Ground could bebroken on the project later in the year.
The school, operating ona $300,000 annual budget -- largely subsidized by the parish -- alsohas succeeded because of parental and clerical involvement and the cooperation of the Carroll County Public School system, Brink said.
"I'm very grateful," she said. "Carroll schools have been fantastic to St. John. We receive speech and language services and other things."
Although Douglas and Sherril Wehland of Manchester are not Catholic, they chose to enroll their 6-year-old daughter Ashley in St. John's first grade.
"The main reason was the education," Sherril said. "We feel that it's an excellent school and will give our daughter a better education."
Religious instruction was not a concern for the Wehlands, who are Methodist.