With help from grants, St. Pascal’s school to remain anchor for St. Paul’s East Side

| May 14, 2015 | 2 Comments
From left, kindergarteners Sam Sandquist and Mikal Goitom listen during a math lesson at St. Pascal Baylon School in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

From left, kindergarteners Sam Sandquist and Mikal Goitom listen during a math lesson at St. Pascal Baylon School in St. Paul. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In an area of St. Paul that Father Michael Byron described as “more needy, less Catholic and more diverse” today than it has been in its 65-year history, St. Pascal Baylon School intends not only to remain open, but also to be an anchor of Catholic education in the east metro of the Twin Cities.

A plan to finance and market the school, plus grants from several foundations and an anonymous donor, are the keys to St. Pascal fighting off the wolf at the door that has threatened in the past few years to force it to close or consolidate with other parish schools.

“I don’t think our parishioners were aware we were close to the brink with the school,” said Father Byron, pastor of St. Pascal Baylon parish at the corner of White Bear Avenue and East Third Street.

Funding for St. Pascal School was draining the parish, taking 55 percent of the parish budget, he said, higher than the recommended 30-35 percent.

Until just a few weeks ago there was still a $100,000 gap in the school’s financing, Father Byron said, and it was either going to run out of cash or close. But an anonymous donation of $50,000 came in, was matched by the Catholic Community Foundation, and all the pieces of St. Pascal’s plan were finally in order.

It’s a seven-year plan — created with the help of Catholic Finance Corporation — that includes creation of a new governance model, development of a first-ever advancement program, funding for new educational initiatives including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and STREAM (science, technology, religion, engineering application and math) models, pro bono consultation assistance, and, importantly, scholarship money to help families with low incomes pay tuition.

Of St. Pascal’s current students, 27 percent receive subsidized lunch, and the number is growing.

When the school opened in 1950 with almost 200 students, the neighborhood was home to predominately white, blue-collar families. Now the school is racially diverse; about 41 percent of the students are non-Caucasian.

“This is the neighborhood now,” Father Byron told The Catholic Spirit. “The demographics are changing, and that doesn’t have to be scary. What’s so positive for me is that I’ve never heard resistance from any of our parishioners to welcoming our new neighbors.”

In a statement about the grants, Father Byron wrote, “St. Pascal School will have a much greater ability to reach out to families who struggle with the costs of non-public education.

“With more scholarship support in place, we see St. Pascal School continuing to be an excellent alternative for parents who seek a quality education for the children with an intentional values/religious component.”

Moving forward

Laurie Jennrich, a veteran educator with administration experience at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul and Epiphany in Coon Rapids, came on board as principal of St. Pascal during the current school year.

Rather than reporting to the pastor, she’ll report to the limited-jurisdiction school board when it is created, Jennrich said. The board will be composed of people with experience in marketing, fundraising, communications and philanthropy as well as education, she said. “They’ll run the school and get it moving forward.”

A large grant from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation is helping put St. Pascal school’s finances on firm footing, and the foundation is offering consulting services at no cost to help establish the school board of volunteers with expertise in needed areas.

Additional grants from the GHR Foundation and the Catholic Community Foundation will help underwrite new initiatives, including a development effort.

St. Pascal’s plan includes a dedicated development office to solicit funding from both foundations and individuals, and for the first time seek the support of its estimated 25,000 graduates.

Engaging alumni

The alumni are currently an untapped resource, Father Byron said. “It’s an enormous alumni base, and they’ve never been asked to give.”

St. Pascal teachers will be taking extra classes to prepare for the STEM and STREAM curricula that will be enhancements to the academic program.

“We’re working on being a ‘World-Ready School,’ ” Jennrich added. Middle school will be a “World Savvy Classroom” that offers instruction in real-world problem solving and critical thinking.

“We are preparing our students to be leaders with an ethical grounding,” she said. “Our goal is to incorporate that religious and ethical base so they make good decisions that serve the world and are not self-serving.”

Jennrich said she has found the 175-student, pre-kindergarten-through grade-eight school to be full of life.

“It’s a great school and serves a great number of students with great needs, she said. “What better way to live out our Catholic mission?”

While his first few years as a pastor have brought a different kind of stress than he found teaching for 15 years at the St. Paul Seminary, Father Byron is excited about the potential he sees in the parish and school community at St. Pascal.

“It’s worth the stress,” he said. “I love being able to make a difference.”

Parishioners: School central to ministry, identity

Although they live in Woodbury now, Kate and Rob Malec have longtime ties to St. Pascal Baylon. Kate attended St. Pascal School starting in junior high. Rob attended St. Pascal for grades 1-8. They met during high school at SPY (St. Pascal’s Youth group) and now have three sons attending their grade school alma mater. Rob, a member of St. Pascal’s school advisory committee, responded via email to questions from The Catholic Spirit about the new vision for St. Pascal School.

TCS: Have you and Kate been concerned that St. Pascal School might close?

Malec: It has always been in the back of our minds that the school could close if we didn’t find a new model for operating it, especially when we saw so many other schools facing the same challenges as St. Pascal, and sometimes closing as a result. But we also knew that St. Pascal is the only remaining Catholic school on St. Paul’s East Side, and that there were a lot of people who were interested in making sure that the tradition of Catholic education in the east metro continues. So that gave us hope that we could eventually find a solution.

TCS: Why is it important for you as parents and parishioners that St. Pascal continue to operate?

Malec: The school has always been such an important part of our parish’s identity. About 15 years ago when we began work on our new church, a full updating/remodeling of the school became a major part of the project. That’s because so many parishioners agreed that our school was central to our ministry. Even long-time parishioners whose children graduated 20 years ago remain committed to our school.

TCS: What specifically do you value about the education your boys are receiving at St. Pascal?

Malec: As parents, we have a lot of options. I drive by several great public schools on my way to drop off the boys at St. Pascal every day. But Kate and I have always had an “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to raising our kids. It’s important to be surrounded by people who share our values and who will be looking out for our kids even when we’re not around. St. Pascal provides that environment, and it has been a blessing to our entire family. I just wish I could do my part by doing a better job helping with the math homework!

TCS: What’s your reaction to the plan for St. Pascal’s future?

Malec: It’s a fantastic step in the right direction. We now have a plan to sustain our school not just in the short term, but for the long term as well. We’ve got the backing of generous people who believe in what we’re doing, and they’re helping us reach our goals. We are not the same parish or school that we were when Kate and I attended so many years ago. Our neighborhood, our student body and our parish as a whole has evolved considerably over the years. This give us an opportunity respond in a meaningful way to our “new normal.” And it can only  enhance the experience of kids like mine who have been at St. Pascal for a long time.

We were able to accomplish this new plan/model because of the hard work of Father Mike [Byron], Laurie Jennrich [principal], Mike Lentz [business manager] and many others at St. Pascal. I am told that the “funders” were serious about working directly with a parish/school. As such, it was important for them to find people who had a vision and a plan for our future, and in whom they could trust. We are really blessed to have such a great staff.

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