The five Monroe County Catholic schools that are affiliated with the Diocese of Rochester but operated independently are preparing to welcome more students in response to the closing of 13 diocesan-run schools, including two that offered junior-high grades.
Some have reported a spike in interest.
Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit and Aquinas Institute in Rochester will both add seventh and eighth grades in September, school officials confirmed Jan. 18. The other diocesan-affiliated Catholic high schools in Monroe County already operate middle schools.
Since Jan. 18, Aquinas has received more than 80 applications even prior to its open house, which is set for noon to 6 p.m. Feb. 10, a spokesman said on Jan. 31. Bishop Kearney reported more than 500 people attended its open house Jan. 31, and a spokesman said on that day alone the school received 71 student applications online and at the open house. Also at the open house, the school announced that seventh- and eighth-grade students will receive individual laptops as do students in ninth through 12th grades.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Johnston, president of Our Lady of Mercy Middle and High School in Brighton, said her school is contemplating adding a sixth grade to its middle school, which currently comprises grades 7 and 8. The school’s current total enrollment for grades 7 to 12 is 664 — the highest in 20 years, Johnston said. Preliminary work, including consulting with the diocese, had already been completed, she noted.
“We contemplated, as many people did, that there was going to be a major change” at the diocesan level, Johnston said.
Our Lady of Mercy Middle School is located in a separate wing from the high school, and there is plenty of space in the wing for a sixth grade, Johnston said. She noted that the school has adequate faculty for a sixth grade, and that the middle and high school’s new principal, Terence Quinn, who started full time Jan. 22, has a long history as a middle- and high-school educator.
The school, which is operated by the Sisters of Mercy, celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.
Officials from The Nazareth Schools, which comprise pre-kindergarten through 12th grades, note that they are already prepared to welcome students in any grade who will be displaced by the closings
Nazareth Schools President Sister Ann Collins acknowledged that the decision to close diocesan schools was a tough one to make.
“It’s an extremely difficult position that the bishop is in,” she said. “We’re quite concerned, but change needs to happen to strengthen Catholic education, and we’re willing to accommodate students.”
The Nazareth Schools comprise Nazareth Hall Elementary and Preschool, a coeducational pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school; Nazareth Hall Middle School, a coeducational school for grades 6 to 8; and Nazareth Academy, an all-female school for grades 9 to 12. Owned and operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph for 136 years, the schools have a total enrollment of about 600, Sister Collins said.
Fifty-three-year-old McQuaid Jesuit — which operates an all-male middle school for grades 7 and 8, and an all-male high school for grades 9 to 12 — will add financial aid for families in the middle-school program as part of an enrollment-management strategy it is developing. The school has been planning the additional aid for several months as part of its strategic plan, said McQuaid’s president, Bill Hobbs. Area news outlets reported that the school also was considering opening a middle school for low-income students, but school officials could not be reached for comment on the reports at press time.
The school also is working to double its $10 million endowment to allow it to increase financial aid, according to a Jan. 17 letter Hobbs sent to parents.
A fifth section also will be added to McQuaid’s seventh grade, which will allow it to accommodate a few more students who might otherwise have been placed on the school’s waiting list. The school’s maximum enrollment is capped at 875, and this year the middle and high school combined have 870 students, with about 200 students in the middle school, Hobbs noted.
“Obviously, with the bishop’s announcement today, there will be middle-school students who are looking to go here, Hobbs said Jan. 18, also noting that his middle school is bursting at the seams. “We’re looking particularly as the Jesuit community decides what it wants to do with its residence space, and we will look at whether we are utilizing our current space to the best of our ability.”
Having announced a week earlier that it intended to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes next fall, Bishop Kearney High School announced Jan. 25 that it would set tuition for these classes at $2,950, the same rate the diocese has established for students in its Monroe County schools next year. Kearney’s board of trustees also agreed to guarantee the 2008-09 junior-high tuition level for a two-year period for incoming seventh-grade students. The school’s high-school tuition rate is $6,900.
Bishop Kearney — which had housed the diocese’s Bishop Hogan junior high until its closure in 2004 — had sought to add a seventh and eighth grade in 2004, but did not get diocesan approval for the change at that time. Nevertheless, a possible expansion has always remained in the backs of administrators’ minds, according to President/CEO Donna Dedee.
Dedee said the school now will be able to help families who are searching for a middle school.
“This is a tough situation for families who will be displaced,” she said.
Dedee said the school looked to partner with the diocese in a way that would provide stability and continuity for the students, and help ease the pain of the closings.
Bishop Kearney, a 46-year-old coeducational high school, has about 460 students in grades 9 to 12, and the school has the capacity to add 200 more students, Dedee said. Derech HaTorah, an Orthodox Jewish school that opened in 2004 as a tenant at Bishop Kearney, would not be displaced by the addition of seventh and eighth grades, she noted.
Instead, Kearney’s new seventh and eighth grades would be placed in the south wing of the school, which has an adequate number of classrooms, said Julie Locey, principal. The school will be investing in technology, including interactive digital white boards for each room, in addition to the individual laptops for seventh- through twelfth-grade students.
“That was a very popular decision at the open house,” spokesman James Pringle said Feb. 1. He noted that the more than 500 people at the school’s open house marked the highest attendance for any open house in the past several years.
Dedee noted the school also plans to add faculty, but the exact number of position has not yet been added.
Following a Jan. 18 announcement by Aquinas Institute President Michael Daley that the school would open a junior-high school in September, many families have been touring the school and more than 80 applications have been submitted for the 150 spots at the junior high, said Joseph B. Knapp, director of admissions and public relations for Aquinas Institute.
The sixth- and seventh-grade students touring Aquinas have been excited by its recently renovated and expanded facilities and programs, including a new fine arts center and student union and a new fitness-education center that will be completed in the spring, Knapp said.
“Not many junior highs can offer that,” Knapp said.
The school, which has been operating since 1902, has set tuition at $4,950; high-school tuition is $7,210. Financial aid also is available.
Knapp noted that the school has room to welcome 150 additional students. Its enrollment currently consists of 812 male and female students in grades 9 to 12.
“Aquinas has such a tradition in Rochester, and now these younger kids will be able to take advantage of that,” Knapp said.