O’Hara delivers ‘State of the School’

President Richard O’Hara stood up in front of the members of the Board of Trustees holding a print out of a PowerPoint filed with pen marks. With their eyes on him, he summarized the strides the students, faculty, and administration have made in the past year through his State of the School address.

“A lot of good questions were asked [about my address]. I hope it was a report that showed both our strengths and didn’t equivocate on areas that require ongoing attention,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara’s  report rates 22 areas of the school, using color coding to show what is in need of progress (red), where change is underway (purple), and where goals have been achieved (green). This year, seven areas showed improvement, with only one seeing a decline.

Under the category of “safe, healthy, inclusive, [and] purposeful climate,” O’Hara cited progress because of “ the brand, particularly [the word] considerate,  our strong consequences for wrong behavior by taking a stand on it in a compassionate way, our careful monitoring of student health, [such as] H1N1, [and] our stance on drug [and] alcohol involvement.”

Specifically about the “inclusive” aspect of this area, O’Hara mentions that JC is becoming a “more diverse environment.” Only six percent of the class of 2008 consisted of students of color, a number which has doubled in the classes of 2011-2013.

O’Hara noted improvements in a “growth-oriented professional culture” as a result of students evaluating teachers through surveys. He added, “[We’ve] seen more evidence of the importance the faculty places on professional growth.”

The administration as a brand and mission-driven group has also moved in a positive direction, specifically after, O’Hara said, “new additions to the administration, because it is good to get new ideas in.”

Marked improvements have occurred in the field of “sufficient technology and information systems.” O’Hara said, “We have laptops for all [students] and we’re past problems [we had with the laptops]. We’re also planning to upgrade the wireless network to make it faster to help with teaching and learning.”

Catholic identity has seen “the most progress in any area,” according to O’Hara, as a result of both the branding and the completion of the strategic plan.

Another improved area is that of “facilities [that are] well maintained with [a] plan for [the] future.” This happened after, O’Hara said, “[We] outsourced our cleaning operations. Folks feel the building is cleaner. We also have a new addition in [Director of Faculties Stewart] Walker.  [Finally], the school is moving ahead in conjunction with the master plan.”

The final section that O’Hara marked as having progressed is in the engagement of students. He said, “It’s more of a gut feeling and the feeling that last year, I judged too conservatively. We also have high numbers of those that participate in activities beyond the classroom [as well as a] range of activities.”

Only enrollment saw a decline, as was expected. This is, “in part, by virtue of the large senior class, [as well as] demographics, the continuing factor of students going to Baltimore schools, [and] competition from the public schools,” said O’Hara.

The competition from other Catholic schools is noticeable, as, according to figures from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 439 students within a six to 10 miles radius of campus have gone to competitor schools, with the largest number going to Calvert Hall College and Notre Dame Prep.

The demographics of Harford County reveal that from 2000-2009, the population of students ages 14-17 increased at a rate of 9.15 percent, while, from 2009-2014, the growth will be at 1.59 percent.  Likewise, during the same time span, the percentage of the population in high schools will drop from a growth of 19.17 to 4.51 percent, according to statistics from the EASI/NAIS Trend Report and Analysis for 2009.

Across the board, Catholic schools are seeing a decrease in students; from 2000-2009, the percent growth of men in Catholic schools was 18.46 percent and for women, 16.97, while from 2009-2014, the growth is expected to be 1.55 and 1.26 percent, respectively, said the EASI/NAIS Trend Report and Analysis for 2009.

O’Hara added, “[Enrollment] is the red sore thumb that’s sticking out there. Despite some improved and enhanced efforts to personalize the recruitment efforts, it is still a huge challenge for us.”

Following his presentation, O’Hara expressed pleasure with the “interaction the report led to” and “the discussion it generated,” with the hopes of seeing more green in his presentation next year.

Kate Froehlich can be reached for comment at [email protected].