Today, The Franciscan School is a vital and growing Kindergarten through Grade 8 school of approximately 683 students and 450 families. With 71 Faculty and Staff, it is one of the largest parish schools in the United States. By the fall of 2008, TFS had three sections at all grade levels.
In 1993 the Diocese of Raleigh formed an Inter-parochial School Committee to determine the need for Kindergarten through Grade 8 schools in Raleigh. By June 1997, “a major study of the Diocese to gauge projected growth and demand” was completed by Meitler Consultants and presented to the diocesan leadership. Faced with “the daunting challenges of pent-up demand for Catholic schools and a growing population” from 1997 to 2015, the Study recommended that a new elementary school be opened at St. Francis of Assisi.
That Feasibility Study for Expanding Catholic Schools, which came to be known as “The Meitler Report”, reported that there was not only a great need for expanded Catholic school education in the Diocese, but also that the zip code areas of St. Francis of Assisi had the greatest immediate and future need. Driven by a compelling vision of continuing an 800 year old tradition of Franciscan education, Pastor Dan Kenna appointed a St. Francis Catholic School Task Force in the summer of 1997 to answer tough questions. “If we build it, will they come?” “How big should we build, and how much will it cost?” “Could all of the classes be filled in the first year?
The Meitler Task Force survey found that 80% (49% certainly, and 31% possibly) of the St. Francis of Assisi parishioners with elementary-age children not in Catholic school were interested in transferring their children to a Catholic school “if it were located near your home and space were available”. Although the Meitler Report recommended that “three classes of every grade should be planned for when purchasing sites, laying out plans and constructing core buildings”, Letters of Intent – with a request for a $200 deposit — were sent to parish families to affirm interest for their children in July 1998. After the response, the Task Force recommended a conservative approach: build for two sections per grade, with a site plan designed to accommodate future expansion to three sections per grade.
Purchase of the necessary land was complete by July 1, 1998, an architect search begun, and a conceptual master plan was complete. By September 1998, an aggressive capital campaign was begun to raise funds for construction. In one of his many addresses to this community during that time, Father Dan said, “It’s my belief that education, if it is to be worthwhile, must develop what is best in people and make them not only clever, but good…. A Franciscan school is one that would need be convinced that the greater the quality of its academic program, and its commitment to the arts, the more effective vehicle it would have to free the student of prejudice, slavery to false values, and a limited understanding of his or her personal worth.
In the spring of 1999 a Principal Search Committee identified and recommended the first TFS Principal, and by July 1999 Founding Principal Barbara Polston was in place to hire Faculty and Staff, develop faculty and curriculum, recruit and enroll students, and put all of the infrastructure in place for an exemplary Catholic K-8 school. Construction began simultaneously with Barbara’s arrival that summer. TFS opened its doors in August 2000, with 320 students and an immediate need for 3 sections of Kindergarten. By the end of the fall of 2001, TFS was accredited and had an enrollment of 462.
Barbara’s tenure was marked by strong Faculty and Staff appointments, robust student enrollment, the development of school traditions and rituals, and strength of educational program. Her work as a founding school Principal largely complete, Barbara Polston left The Franciscan School in the spring of 2003. The national search that ensued resulted in the appointment of Tom McLaughlin as Principal, whose leadership was marked by an enhanced and deepened Franciscan spirituality at TFS, Faculty and Staff mentoring, and a broad-based review and revision of the School’s Mission Statement to reflect that deepened spirituality.
Mark Fish was appointed Principal in 2005, and his tenure was marked by enrollment growth, faculty, staff, and administrative expansion, curriculum and program enhancement, strategic financial planning, communication to strengthen parish and parent partnerships, fund raising, and emphasis on TFS as a place of prayer.
During that same time, enrollment grew to record levels, demonstrating the sustainability of three sections of each grade level. Years of experience for Faculty and Staff increased from 9 to 14, on average. Continuous professional growth has become a trademark of TFS, and 34% of the Faculty possess advanced degrees.
The addition of temporary housing (modular classroom units, or MCU’s) has accommodated the addition of a third section of 6th, 7th and 8th Grades in thesummers of 2006 and 2007, as did the additional staffing requirements.
After an extended self-study, The Franciscan School was reaccredited in the spring of 2007 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The clearly-defined School Improvement Plan that resulted charts continuous school improvement goals from 2007-2012.
With the debut of the Parish’s most ambitious fund raising effort in its 25 year history ($7.5 million as part of a total $13 million project), the Parish has completed the planning, fund raising, and contruction for the latest extensive addition to the St. Francis of Assisi campus. The Assisi Community Center dramatically enhances facilities for TFS indoor athletics and special events. The Day Chapel is a beautiful addition to the campus and is used for daily Mass as well as speical prayer services. The Siena Lifelong Learning Center which houses the expanded Middle School during the day and the growing parish faith formation population afternoons, evenings, and weekends, has been in use since January 2011.