After being slated to close almost 21 months ago, St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia is stronger than ever with two new administrators, high morale and increasing enrollment rates.
On January 6, 2012, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that St. Hubert, along with West Catholic, Conwell-Egan and Bonner-Prendie, would close at the end of the 2011-2012 school year.
The decision was based on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which Cardinal Rigali put in place in 2010 to review all of the schools’ plummeting enrollment rates and related financial stress. Though declining enrollment rates were a system-wide trend, St. Hubert was having its own problem as rumors of the school closing made parents even more hesitant to enroll their daughters in a school with an uncertain future.
Students and staff were shocked, saddened and angered by the closing decision, which was announced publicly to St. Hubert’s students on a Friday afternoon in the auditorium as the girls hugged their friends and called their parents crying.
If St. Hubert’s closed, more than 650 girls would have been displaced and would have to explore other schools within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia or even in the School District of Philadelphia. Teachers, administrators and staff would also be forced to seek employment among the limited available positions within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia or left to explore other options within the general job market. St. Hubert’s campus would have been emptied out of people who respected and looked after the community, leaving the area with another abandoned building.
“The announcement seemed wrong,” said Brianna O’Donnell, ’99 alum and Mayfair resident. “It always seems hard to understand when a decision about education is based only on funds. This community depends on St. Hubert’s and it would be very different if it closed.”
The St. Hubert Alumnae Association pulled together to keep the St. Hubert tradition alive by creating fundraising events such as Beef and Beers and sold “Once a Bambie, Always a Bambie” T-shirts and sweatshirts.
After an uproar in protests, Archbishop Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed to hear appeals from all four schools. The “Save St. Hubert” appeal team created a strategic financial plan with the intent to not only stabilize St. Hubert for the time being, but also for future financial growth.
“The combined efforts of the staff, students and alumni are the reason St Hubert’s is open today,” said Sara Ford, ’99 alum who donated to several different fundraising events.
During the summer of 2012, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia formed the Faith in the Future Foundation (FIFF), which provides strategic counsel regarding development and enrollment to all of the Archdiocesan high schools, including St. Hubert. The FIFF currently holds all operational and managerial oversight of the 17 Catholic high schools in Philadelphia.
St. Hubert hired two new administrators in the following months. Francis Farrell, who was the chair of the liberal arts department at Manor College, was named president in August 2012. Shortly after, Robin Skubin Nolan, an alumni and previous Chief Marketing Officer at a large Philadelphia law firm, was named the new director of institutional advancement (DIA), a position that had been closed in 2010 due to financial burdens.
Nolan never expected to return to her alma mater but as the appeals process moved forward in the winter of 2012, she said she felt “an incredible feeling that she needed to come back and help her school.”
Though she wasn’t with the school during the process, Nolan witnessed the strong community morale that “skyrocketed” during that time and has been working to harness that energy ever since.
“Planning for future budgets and financial stability continues to be analyzed in new ways by the President, DIA and Advisory Board,” said Nolan. “We like to say that we are ‘saved, not safe.’ We are constantly looking at our infrastructure and operations in an effort to not only financially sustain the school, but to also ensure that we are offering students the best possible education.”
Farrell and Nolan’s previous experience effectively adjusted the perspective on the school’s operations, and more specifically, the recruitment and enrollment process.
“Our recruitment efforts were more aggressive and targeted via the use of technology and integrated marketing,” said Nolan, whose own experience in marketing didn’t hurt the efforts.
The passion that came about during the appeals process is also another reason for boosted morale and higher enrollment rates. With highly publicized protests and fundraising events, the faculty and student’s contagious enthusiasm reassured the community, and especially the hesitant parents.
During the 2012-13 school year, St. Hubert saw a 23 percent increase in enrollment rates from the Class of 2016 to the Class of 2017, and likewise, donations increased 25 percent from the 2011-12 fiscal year to the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The Class of 2014 is gearing up to graduate in the spring and there’s something in the air as the girls look at colleges and think about their futures. Many of the girls couldn’t imagine graduating anywhere else but St. Hubert, a school they fought so hard to keep open.