Among the 13 Monroe County Catholic schools slated for closure at the end of the 2007-08 school year are five of the six inner-city schools that have been collectively known as the WIN Schools since 1995.
That year, Peggy and the late Robert Wegman pledged $25 million — later rising to approximately $42.8 million — to establish and fund the diocese’s Wegman Inner City Voucher Program.
Diocesan officials said lagging enrollment, high per-pupil costs and facilities issues put Corpus Christi, Holy Family, St. Andrew, St. Boniface and St. Monica schools on the closing list.
While the number of WIN buildings will be sharply reduced, diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro said the diocese’s commitment to inner-city students has not lessened. The restructuring plan focuses diocesan efforts on supporting students rather than buildings, he said.
Diocesan officials expect most displaced WIN students to re-enroll at Cathedral School at Holy Rosary — the lone remaining WIN school — or at St. John Neumann on the Rochester-Irondequoit border.
Yet Mandelaro noted WIN-funded students will be able to enroll at any Monroe County diocesan school.
“If you can fill up the schools that we’re keeping and spend the same amount of money, you’re clearly directing more money to the education of these kids and less money to keeping up the buildings in which they’re located,” Bishop Matthew H. Clark said in an interview with the Catholic Courier.
The bishop acknowledged the difficulties that families may have in changing schools, and the longer bus rides that some students may confront in moving to another school. However, he said he hoped that the quality of education and the supportive environment of Catholic schools would be some compensation for displaced families.
Tracy Nadler, principal at St. Andrew’s School, said parents, teachers, parishioners, friends and supporters have expressed deep sadness over the impending closing of their school.
“There is a sadness that this would happen, and they are asking, ‘Where is the mission,’” Nadler said. “What is our mission, and how could we abandon the city?”
She said some parents also are worried that there will not be enough room for their children at the Catholic schools they choose. Nevertheless, Nadler said teachers and administrators at schools like St. Andrew are committed to making the remaining school year the best it can be.
“We’re going to have a ball,” Nadler said. “I’ve told the faculty, parents and students we are going to have a great half a year.”
That intention included going ahead with celebrations of Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27 to Feb. 2. Following the local theme of “Catholic Schools feed the body, mind and spirit,” Catholic Schools Week at St. Andrew’s featured a prayer service during which students encircled the altar, a “brain busters” academic competition, a door-decorating event to show school spirit and floor-hockey tournaments, Nadler said.
“We are committed to making this a good half year,” Nadler said.
Principal Susan Sak of Corpus Christi School echoed that sentiment. She said students remained excited about celebrating Catholic Schools Week, which included such events as a skating party, prayer service, crazy sock and hat days, and writing thank-you notes to those who have supported the school.
“That will be extra-special, this year,” she said.
Kathy Dougherty, principal of Cathedral School at Holy Rosary, said that the WIN schools have always enjoyed dedicated support from their families, and that the schools were intended to be beacons of hope for the community.
“We offer Catholic education to people who never thought they could have it. While many of our families are not Catholic, for the most part, they are very much churched and know the value of education,” she said.
Dougherty noted that WIN funding covers 50 percent to 80 percent of tuition costs, depending on students’ family incomes. During the past year, most parents at Cathedral School at Holy Rosary paid tuition of $2,800 to $3,200, despite earning only $20,000 to $30,000 working in industries such as health care, she said. Dougherty added that 83 percent her school’s students this year are living at the poverty line.
“We really, truly are serving the poor of the community,” Dougherty said. “We do it with compassion and faith.”
The WIN schools have offered safety, proximity for those who may have limited transportation, early childhood education and extended-day programs, she said. That’s one reason why WIN families have been so supportive of the schools, she said.
Bishop Clark said that in a recent conversation with him, Peggy Wegman had reaffirmed her strong personal support for the WIN students and her intention to be present with them in the remaining schools.
“She was talking about her personal efforts to support what we’re doing, even though there’s some disappointment, obviously, that she’s losing some of these schools that she loves so much,” he said.
The bishop also expressed his strong support for preserving Catholic-school education for low-income families.
“That’s really at the heart of my hope and my commitment for Catholic-school education,” Bishop Clark said. “My fond hope is that we’ll have more kids participating from the inner city in this program than we’ve had before.”
The diocese also plans to reach out to other donors and supporters to help it fulfill its commitment to urban students, Mandelaro said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated with reaction and new information on 2-4-08.