Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The end of an era for some local schools...

When I came downstairs for breakfast this morning, I saw that Mike had set aside the front page of the paper for me and placed it by my chair, which he always does for any Catholic news items.

"Holy Angels is closing. It's a big story."

We live in an area of former growth from Italian and Polish immigrants. As you can imagine, that means that there are a lot of Catholics here. Consequently, you can't do a hip bump without running into a Catholic parish or school. Well, at least you *used to*.

In recent years, our bishop had the highly unpopular task of getting the diocese into better financial shape by closing parishes and schools. This was necessary because of significant population shift. We live in the Rust Belt. People have moved south and west, and the people that have stayed have shifted from the city to the suburbs. So all of these beautiful 100+ year old church buildings and schools were closed, and naturally people were very upset about it. Our parish's school closed three years ago. It had been open since 1897. As devastating as that is, I can understand that you can't keep a school open when there are only 80 children enrolled in the school populating grades pre-k through 8. It's just not financially tenable.

Most recently, it's the Catholic elementary schools that were hit the hardest. Four K-8 schools closed just in our immediate township and the neighboring city border. So far Hank's school has been spared, and we're praying it stays that way.

Holy Angels, on the other hand, is the first high school casualty that I know if. It's a Catholic girls high school in the city (including a fairly new prep school division for girls in grades 6-8), and interestingly it's not under the control of the diocese. It was founded by the Gray Nuns of the Sacred Heart and has been supported by them for the past *152 years*. They have donated an astonishing amount of money from their retirement fund and sold property in an effort to save the school, and it looks like it wasn't enough. The school principal and president has stated that declining enrollment is the death knell, due mostly to the closing of two of it's "feeder schools" and general economic recession/fundraising problems.

There is also a lot of competition. There are multiple Catholic high schools in this area, many of which are single sex like Holy Angels. There is a Catholic boys high school a stone's throw from our house that we're hoping to send Hank to (prayers for scholarships much appreciated :)) and two girls high schools for us to choose from for Anne. So if your child's elementary school closed and you chose another one further away, you are probably more likely to then look at the high schools nearer to your new elementary school since your child will want to stay with their friends.

It's a toughie. I hate to see a school like this close, one that was a charism for a religious order. I saw lots of talk about it on Facebook this morning, interestingly. Alumni and graduates of other local Catholic schools broken up by it.

This phenomena is not isolated in the Catholic schools, however. I read an article in the newspaper this weekend about our public school district. They just finished an assessment of the entire district and have about a half dozen options for what they're going to do in the coming years to save money and address their own declining enrollment. Almost certainly, some school buildings will close and children will be consolidated into other schools. In at least 3 of these options, the public elementary school down the street from us (where Hank went to kindergarten) will either close or become a building housing only a select few grades. In one option, children would have to change school buildings every 2-3 years! Even though we're in constant fundraising paranoia over in the Catholic schools, I think that overall we're in a better situation.  In fact, this upcoming public school consolidation make cause some parents to send their children to a Catholic school instead. And of course, we'd love to pick up more students, I'm just sorry to see the public district suffering and struggling. Teachers will be laid off, it's going to be very unpleasant. :(

We've got Henry all registered for third grade at his current Catholic school. The school picked up some students this year from the latest Catholic elementary school to close, and I'm hoping this means that they will stay in business. There are two other robust Catholic K-8 schools right in our township, so competition is steep. I prefer Hank's current school; it's smaller and warmer, but that comes at the price of the fundraising paranoia mentioned above.

We'll have to see what happens, but Catholic education is certainly feeling worried right now.


  1. I remember talking to my father and to a family friend, both of whom went to Catholic parochial and high schools. My father went for FREE K-8 simply because his family were members of the parish. My friend's parents were charged $3/year for their first kid, $2/year for their second kid, and $1/year for their youngest. Of course, they were taught by nuns, and, quite simply, nuns were almost free labor. The parish paid the order enough to keep the convent repaired and the nuns in habits, food, books and medical care, and though that did add up, it was PENNIES compared to what paying a staff costs. I've been saying for years that now that there are so many solid new contemplative orders, we really need some new orders founded whose charism is teaching.

  2. On the other MS I had three choices public down the road, private prep school on the way to my parent's office, or Catholic school in another county I could catch a bus at my parish at 6 in the morning. The next closest Catholic school was hours away. So really my only choice was public. I envy people who have choice. For preschool my only choice was a Baptist one.

    The bright side is now there's a Catholic preschool at my parents parish.

  3. The (socio-economic and racially diverse) town in which I grew up had a switch-every-two-years set up for elementary school and it wasn't problematic for us at all (in fact, we found graduating to a new school every couple of years exciting). It was set up intentionally long before I started school in hopes of alleviating the problems they were having once kids from different neighborhood schools were all put together in middle and high school. It worked! We were with the same diverse group of kids from kindergarten until 12th grade and we didn't suffer from the kind of violence that plagued the school system before this arrangement was implemented. I suppose this is because 5 year olds are inherently more flexible and open than tweens.


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