Auburn’s newest private Catholic school sees steady growth - Catholic Courier

Auburn’s newest private Catholic school sees steady growth

Ann Fallon cannot remember when there was not at least one Catholic elementary school in Auburn.

“Catholic schools are kind of woven into the fabric of this community,” she recently remarked.

But it appeared as though that fabric was tearing in late 2019, when the Diocese of Rochester announced that St. Joseph School — Auburn’s last remaining Catholic elementary school — would close at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

The news spurred a group of Catholics into action, and they began planning to open a new Catholic elementary school.

“We looked at it like we really don’t have a choice. We know we need a Catholic elementary school in Auburn,” Fallon said.

Opening in the fall of 2020, St. Albert the Great Academy has grown steadily each year and recently was recognized by the Diocese of Rochester as a private Catholic school, said Fallon, the school’s founding principal.

Auburn Catholics establish new private school: St. Albert the Great Academy

Declining enrollment and financial challenges had led to the closure of St. Joseph School, according to the November 2019 diocesan statement announcing the decision. However, many Cayuga County parents still wanted their kids to have a Catholic education, complete with the academic excellence, disciplined environment and small class sizes for which St. Joseph School had been known, Fallon said.

Upon learning of St. Joseph’s impending closure, a team immediately began looking into the logistics of founding an independent Catholic school, Fallon said. The notion of starting a school from the ground up wasn’t unthinkable in Auburn, where many recall the founding of Tyburn Academy of Mary Immaculate by the late Father Albert Shamon in 1992, she added. Tyburn is recognized by the Diocese of Rochester as a private Catholic junior high and high school.

“I think there was an understanding in this community and in the parishes of the reality of an independent school. Tyburn kind of paved the way for that,” said Fallon, who previously served as development director at Tyburn.

Catholic elementary school in Auburn was established during COVID-19 pandemic

The team had only been working for a few months when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, forcing schools throughout the nation to temporarily suspend in-person learning. Yet the team kept working despite uncertainty surrounding just about everything during the spring and summer of 2020.

“It was an act of faith for sure,” Fallon said. “Remember, back then we weren’t even sure if schools were going to be allowed to reopen.”

Nonetheless, St. Albert the Great’s founders worked to secure a state charter and funding for the school as well as a facility, faculty and board of trustees.

When the fall of 2020 rolled around, most public school districts were not able to bring their students back into the classroom five days a week because they couldn’t meet the state’s social-distancing requirements. But with their smaller class sizes, many Catholic schools — including the new St. Albert the Great — were able to meet these requirements. Interest in the school surged, Fallon recalled.

“All the sudden, we became the only (elementary school) that had in-person learning in the beginning,” she said. “We very quickly went from a core group of 30 students to 100 students, and that was all we could take because of the social-distancing requirements.”

The school’s trustees and staff weren’t sure how many of the new school families would remain with St. Albert once public schools reopened for full-time, in-person learning, but they were pleased when about 87 percent of students re-enrolled for the 2021-22 school year, Fallon remarked.

Private schools like St. Albert allow increased access to Catholic education

St. Albert currently has 110 students enrolled in preschool through grade six and occupies two separate yet neighboring facilities. Preschool through third-grade classrooms are in the Washington Street building that previously housed Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic School, which closed in 2013. St. Albert’s fourth through sixth grades are just around the corner on Pulaski Street in the former St. Hyacinth School building.

The school at St. Hyacinth Church, now part of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish, closed several decades ago, and parishioners enjoy seeing students once again at St. Hyacinth’s Friday-morning Masses, Fallon noted. St. Albert’s Catholic identity and connection to the local Catholic community is very important to school leaders, and the Diocese of Rochester has been very supportive of the school, she said.

Independent schools such as St. Albert and Tyburn provide a Catholic education to students in parts of the diocese where access to Catholic schools is limited, as they are the only Catholic schools in Cayuga County, noted Frank Arvizzigno, superintendent of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic schools.

“I am grateful that schools like St. Albert the Great are able to provide families with the ability to immerse their children in an education rooted in Catholic teachings where students can grow spiritually and strengthen their relationship with God each day,” he said.

Tags: Catholic Schools, Cayuga County News
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