Three Catholic schools to close, 8 under urgent review to remain open

| January 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

Before making the opening sign of the cross at Mass last Sunday, Father Thomas Kommers, pastor at St. Joseph in Red Wing, prayed for students and staff at the parish’s school after the announcement that it would be closing its doors for good at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

St. Joseph is one of three Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that will close at the end of the current school year because they lack long-term sustainability. The other two are St. Mathias in Hampton and San Miguel Middle School in Minneapolis.

Local school leaders at St. Joseph School, which has 43 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and St. Mathias School, with 22 students in pre-K through fifth grade, made the decision to close after participating in an urgent review process outlined in the archdiocesan strategic plan announced last fall. (The pre-kindergarten program at St. Joseph School is not closing.)

San Miguel Middle School, which enrolls 60 students and is independently administered by the DeLaSalle Christian Brothers, completed its own review process in making its determination to close.

“The closing of a Catholic school always involves sad and difficult decisions,” Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a letter accompanying the announcement. “Families and school staff are deeply impacted, as is the entire parish and school community. We may take comfort, however, in knowing that when a school building closes, the history and tradition of the school community lives on in the generations of students who walked its halls and were formed in its classrooms.”

Father Kommers at St. Joseph said the school’s enrollment declined this year when the public school system added fifth grade to its middle schools. The recession also hit school families hard, making it difficult for the school to raise tuition levels.

In a letter to parents after the decision to close the school had been made, Father Kommers said he wrote that “it’s a time of change, we’re on a different path than we had expected to be on, but I think we have a firm commitment to continuing to raise our children — to form them, to educate them — to be faith-filled followers of Jesus.”

The parish, he said, has offered to pay the difference between in-parish tuition and out-of-parish tuition for students to attend St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings or St. John the Baptist in Vermillion. It also is working on organizing carpooling to the two Catholic schools, which are about 30 miles away from St. Joseph.

Easing the transition

Marty Frauenheim, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the archdiocese is working closely with school leaders to ease the transition for affected families.

Families received letters from school leaders explaining assistance that is available to enroll their children in a nearby Catholic school for the 2011-2012 academic year, according to the archdiocese. Arrangements are being made with neighboring Catholic schools regarding transportation and tuition issues.

Efforts also are under way to help affected employees, including helping them find positions in other Catholic schools.

Despite the closing announcement, “the thing we’re very happy about is that, as the schools are realizing that they are not going to be able to provide Catholic education as a Catholic school, they have not put aside their determination to continue to support Catholic education for those children,” Frauenheim told The Catholic Spirit. “They are currently looking to see how they can continue to provide that opportunity for those children and those families that want their children to continue in a Catholic school.”

Ongoing support from the affected parish communities could take the form of tuition assistance to help students attend another Catholic school and helping to facilitate transportation options, she said.

Initiated by the strategic plan, the urgent review process is part of a broader school review process that includes ongoing evaluation and strengthened ac­countability requirements.

All Catholic schools were assigned to one of four categories: urgent review schools; sustainability review schools, which will undergo a review process during the next three years; shared resources discussion schools, in which participants will engage in conversations about viability and collaboration with nearby schools and parishes; and schools where there is no change at this time.

Schools evaluations are focused on four categories the strategic plan has identified as criteria for long-term viability: Catholic identity, academic quality, financial management and marketing/development.

Making recommendations

St. Joseph and St. Mathias schools began the urgent review process last October by forming local school task forces, which analyzed and reviewed data related to the long-term viability criteria.

The process included an open meeting with school families and stakeholders at each school during which local task force members detailed the current status of the school as it related to the viability criteria.

The task force then developed a recommendation regarding the school’s future based on what they learned through the process. In mid-December, local task forces presented their recommendations to a review board made up of archdiocesan staff and others. The review board reflected with local task force representatives on the sustainability of their schools.

In each case, local school leaders made the final decision about whether to close, Frauenheim said.

“The schools that were designated to do that urgent review had some things in common,” she told The Catholic Spirit. “One of those was changing demographics that affected enrollment and finances.

“There just weren’t enough children in some of those areas” to help sustain the schools over time, she added. “In terms of [St. Joseph and St. Mathias], they’re both fairly small and they’ve both been looking at that for a while.”

Next steps

Eight other urgent-review schools will remain open. Pope John Paul II School in Minneapolis is one of those schools.

When principal Debra King announced to students over the intercom system that the school would remain open, she said the children waved their hands in the air, jumped up and down, and said, “Thank you, Jesus!”

The kindergarten to eighth-grade school, with an enrollment of 105 students, underwent urgent review because of concerns about the impact of parish mergers and expensive upgrades required to bring the school building up to code.

Administrators have devised a marketing plan to draw more students to the school, and an anonymous donor paid for the costs of the upgrades, King said. As a result, the school remains in the black.

One requirement for urgent-review schools to remain open was producing a plan for a balanced budget over the next three years.
“The challenges [the other urgent-review schools] have haven’t gone away,” Frauenheim said.

“The next steps around that are following up by monitoring and seeing how they’re doing along the way,” she added.

One of the strategic plan’s next steps is set to begin in February when seven schools come together in two different regions for shared resource discussions, Frauenheim said.

“There are a number of schools that will be called together in these round one discussions,” she said. “Possible outcomes are a greater collaboration among . . . schools, for example, including some urgent review schools. It also might be sharing programs, sharing staff or even a [single] school within that region,” she said.

For more information, please visit http://archspmschools.org/news_events.aspx . Families seeking assistance in finding a Catholic school that meets their needs are invited to call the Catholic Schools Hotline at 612-SCHOOLS (612-724-6657).

Urgent review schools

The remaining eight Catholic schools that underwent urgent review and have decided to remain open are as follows:

• Academy of Ss. Peter and Paul, Loretto.
• Immaculate Conception, Columbia Heights.
• Our Lady of Peace, Minneapolis.
• Our Lady of the Prairie, Belle Plaine.
• Pope John Paul II, Minneapolis.
• St. Bernard, Cologne.
• St. Francis-St. James United, St. Paul.
• St. Matthew, St. Paul.

Archbishop Nienstedt’s Letter – January 14, 2011 – PDF

Archbishop Nienstedt’s Letter in Spanish – January 14, 2011 – PDF

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Category: Archdiocese Planning Process, Featured