Siena Catholic Academy, the only stand-alone Catholic middle school within the Diocese of Rochester, will close at the end of the 2019-20 school year. The closure was triggered by declining enrollment levels, which had plagued the school for several years and were worsened by the current COVID-19 global pandemic, according to a May 1 letter to school families from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano and James Tauzel, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.
The school, located on the grounds of St. Thomas More Parish in Brighton, failed to meet its goal of enrolling 160 students for the upcoming year by an April 30 deadline. That goal fell out of reach after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in mid-March enacted the New York State on PAUSE executive order, which temporarily closed all schools throughout the state.
“While this enrollment shortfall existed before the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Cuomo’s “PAUSE” order, the temporary closure of all school buildings further hindered the recent efforts to promote registration through open houses, tours and similar efforts throughout our entire Catholic school system,” Bishop Matano and Tauzel wrote. “At the same time, parishes have suffered significant financial losses due to the pandemic and will not be able to increase subsidies or even maintain present subsidy levels to sustain the school’s future operations. Tuition, while significant and substantial, only covers approximately half of the total cost to educate each student.”
According to Siena’s website, tuition for the 2020-21 school year had been set at $5,500 for parish-sponsored students and $6,600 for students not sponsored by diocesan parishes. In an effort to encourage parents to continue choosing Catholic education for their children, diocesan leaders have made tuition arrangements with Aquinas Institute, Bishop Kearney, Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women and McQuaid Jesuit, which all offer middle-school programs for students in grades 6-8, in addition to their high-school programs.
“Each school has generously agreed to honor the same net tuition planned for attending Siena this fall,” Bishop Matano and Tauzel said in their letter.
Most Monroe County Catholic schools that are affiliated with diocesan parishes stop at fifth grade, but Holy Cross School in Rochester, St. Joseph School in Penfield and Seton Catholic School in Brighton each also offer a sixth grade.
“We pray that you will make the decision to select one of these schools, knowing so well, through your experience at Siena, the spiritual and academic treasure that is a Catholic school education. We are confident that these schools will continue to introduce your children to our Lord and his Church,” Bishop Matano and Tauzel told Siena’s families.
In their letter, Bishop Matano and Tauzel thanked Siena’s families, teachers and staff, including Principal David Carapella, for their efforts to make the school a nurturing environment. They acknowledged the pain that comes with any school closure and said they empathize with Siena’s school community. The decision to close the school was made in consultation with the diocesan School Board, Presbyteral Council and Stewardship Council after “very careful and prolonged study and a careful review of available funding.”
Diocesan leaders remain firm in their commitment to Catholic education and hope families will do the same, Bishop Matano and Tauzel stated.
“We must deal with the reality and act prudently and without delay to present the options for a Catholic school education noted in this letter to assure a stable academic setting for your children into the future,” they said.