As Enrollment Shortfall Threatens OLF Academy, One Wilton Family Offers Substantial Financial Incentive to New Students

photo: OLFCA Facebook

In the midst of its annual enrollment period and fearful of a shortfall in the number of students it needs to remain operational, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Academy (OLFCA) in Wilton is aggressively stepping up efforts to register new students for the 2022-2023 school year.

One Wilton family is at the center of a new plan designed to incentivize families to register new students during the critical June enrollment period — and for a very meaningful reason. According to school officials, the family has offered up to $3,000 toward the $8,100 annual tuition for every new student enrolled during the June enrollment period.

The new offer is splashed on the homepage of the school’s website: “If you’ve ever thought there might be a better educational fit for your child, now is the best time to speak with us. Until June 25th, we have a tuition offer. You could save up to $3,000 regardless of income.”

GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to donors Keith and Amy Heffernan about the new plan, as well as to representatives of OLFCA for insights about the potential crisis facing the school.

Not the First Enrollment Challenge

In an email exchange with GMWMichael Fleming, who holds the position of Strategic Planner on the OLFCA school board, quantified the academy’s new enrollment goal.

“We currently are seeking 20 to 25 additional students across all grades,” Fleming stated. (OLFCA offers pre-K through eighth-grade classes.)

This is not the first time the academy has faced pressure due to declining enrollment or related fundraising issues.

In June 2020, the school was within days of permanently closing when academy officials made an urgent public appeal to make up a $140,000 deficit. At the time, school leaders attributed the problem to the “inability to fundraise and recruit during the pandemic.”

Narrowly avoiding a decision to close, the academy experienced a boost in enrollment as families struggled with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the frustration of distance learning models used in public schools, but Fleming suggested that boost was short-lived.

“The COVID pandemic made it difficult to truly welcome and engage with some of the new families that joined us during the pandemic, a number of whom ultimately returned to the public school system once the public schools returned to full-time in-person learning,” Fleming wrote.

The academy is now under the leadership of a new principal, Mary Ann Fleming, after longtime principal Stanley Steele stepped down at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Board member Michael Fleming (no relation to principal Fleming) believes the school is on the right track for future success, as long as next year’s enrollment can reach the desired threshold.

“Today, with new leadership in place and many new educational and community initiatives, we are confident that OLFCA will be in a much stronger position in the years to come,” Fleming wrote.

New Enrollment Incentive Plan

When Keith and Amy Heffernan learned of OLFCA’s enrollment challenges, they came up with the idea of a memorial donation in honor of Amy’s mother, Rita Roymans, who passed away last year.

The Heffernans believe this tribute to Roymans is very fitting.

“She had to leave her Catholic school due to family finances,” Amy explained. “She went there through 11th grade and she had to leave right before her senior year.”

“Education was important to her,” Amy continued. “She was a teacher herself.”

“We wanted to do something special in her name, and this now dovetails with the school’s new enrollment initiatives,” Keith added. “It’s a perfect blending of the two [goals].”

The Heffernans have personal ties to OLFCA. Their younger child is currently a seventh-grader at OLFCA; their older child graduated from the school.

“They both had positive experiences at [OLFCA],” said Keith, who also reported the older child went on to become co-valedictorian of his class at Wilton High School and a National Merit Scholarship winner.

“It’s been such a wonderful opportunity for our sons and we want other families to be able to have that opportunity,” Amy added.

The Heffernans emphasized their donation was purposely not designed as an annual scholarship or need-based assistance, but rather to directly target the short-term enrollment needs.

“A tuition incentive is the way to think about it,” Keith said.

In addition to families for whom the $8,100 annual tuition would be a barrier, Keith believes the incentive might give some families the additional justification they need to try the school.

“It’s tough when you live in an area with good public schools,” Keith said. “It’s always hard for a family paying taxes to justify paying for [a private] school on top of that. It’s hard for families to justify giving it a try when they feel like [they’ve] got a good free option.”

The Heffernans cited numerous benefits they believe new families would experience at OLFCA, with particular praise for the school’s math and STEAM curriculum, and pointed to the school’s individualized approach to learning, small class sizes, family feel, and supportive environment.

“I think it’s hard for people who haven’t been in the school to appreciate those things. Our feeling was if we incented families to give it a try, they’d realize, wow, this is a great experience,” Keith said. “It’s worth spending the money.”

Michael Fleming’s comments echoed that point.

“We are confident that once new students have the opportunity to experience firsthand the magic of an OLF education, these new students will be a part of the ‘Fatima family’ for many years to come,” he said.

Timeline

The deadline for registration with the special tuition incentive is Friday, June 25.

Prospective families may call 203.762.8100 or send an email for more information or to schedule a tour. 

Open house events are scheduled for Monday, June 13 at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Prospective families are asked to call or email before attending an open house.