Although their buildings are slated to close in June, principals at Catholic elementary schools in Monroe County said their communities will not go quietly into the night.
Rebecca Maloney, principal of Holy Cross School in Charlotte, said 250 to 300 people attended a Jan. 20 meeting at the school to explore whether some of the 13 affected schools might be spared.
“We’re not just looking out for Holy Cross. We feel that the cuts were too deep,” Maloney said. She noted that representatives from Irondequoit’s St. Margaret Mary School, Greece’s Catherine McAuley School and Henrietta’s Good Shepherd School — also slated for closure — attended the meeting as well.
Maloney feels the diocese’s announced tuition reduction of more than 25 percent will result in a higher retention of displaced students than the 50-percent level Bishop Matthew H. Clark said was anticipated in a diocesan task force’s calculations.
“We believe (the tuition cut) is going to entice not only the retaining of our current families, but also to entice new families to invest,” she said.
Along those lines, Eileen O’Neill, principal of St. John of Rochester School in Fairport, said her school has received several calls from parents whose children are not enrolled in the school but were interested because they heard about the drop in tuition.
“I think people don’t realize we are one of the schools slated to close,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill and Christopher Meagher, principal of Holy Trinity in Webster, which also is slated to close, said both schools have formed parent committees to explore their options. Meagher noted that Holy Trinity has polled parents about their future intentions, and nearly all have said they would stay put if Holy Trinity were not closing. School officials will be meeting with diocesan officials to see if they can present a plan to remain open, based on the parent responses, Meagher said.
“We’re a very close community, and they’d love to stay here if they could,” Meagher said.
Dave Kelly, associate director of the diocesan Office of Stewardship and Communications, confirmed Jan. 24 that the diocese is meeting with school officials to listen to any concerns, issues or proposals brought forward.
He said school officials are waiting to see what the response will be from the registration process for diocesan schools, which runs from Feb. 7 to March 19. Students registering by submitting their forms at the schools they currently attend. This year, the forms for Monroe County schools will enable families to indicate their first, second and third choice of schools.
“I think that we are going to look at every possible way to place as many kids who otherwise are not going to a Catholic school at a school,” Kelly said.
Meanwhile, Meagher noted that even though Holy Trinity School is slated to close, crews are continuing to work on Murphy Hall, which is the second phase of construction for the parish’s Trinity Life Center. The hall was intended to serve as a new, larger gym and social hall for the school and the parish.
Maloney similarly noted that Holy Cross School recently opened a new playground and has made numerous other renovations.
O’Neill and Meagher said concerns have already arisen over whether the few remaining east-side schools have sufficient openings for the large number of displaced students.
“The schools in our particular area seem to have good enrollment,” O’Neill said. “(Parents) are worried about whether there will be spaces for their children.”
On the west side, Sam Zalacca, principal of Our Mother of Sorrows School in Greece, said there’s enough room at his facility to absorb students from nearby Holy Cross and Catherine McAuley. He said he would rely on diocesan officials to determine where to cap class sizes and faculty additions.
Stephen Oberst, principal of Chili’s St. Pius Tenth School, said he already has begun promoting his west-side school to families from St. John the Evangelist, Spencerport; Good Shepherd, Henrietta; Holy Family, Rochester; and St. Monica, Rochester. Although these schools are not located in Chili, Oberst observed that St. Pius Tenth covers a wide geographic area that includes students from Caledonia, Mumford, Wheatland, Ogden and Riga. He added that St. Pius Tenth has a current enrollment of 250 students and can accommodate as many as 425.
Yet Zalacca observed that finding space is not the only concern for schools taking on displaced students.
“Even for the schools that are open, there are new challenges ahead of us depending upon the class sizes, the needs of some of the children coming in and the healing process,” he said.
In the City of Rochester, Principal Susan Sak of Corpus Christi School at Blessed Sacrament, one of five Wegman Inner City Schools slated to close, said students remain excited about celebrating Catholic Schools Week Jan. 27-Feb. 2. Events for the week will include 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.