Diocesan officials announced Nov. 30 that Holy Family Middle School in Elmira will close at the end of the 2011-12 school year and that a new regional junior-high program is being established at Elmira Notre Dame High School.
Holy Family currently serves grades 6 through 8. Beginning in 2012-13, sixth-grade students will join those in prekindergarten through fifth grade at Holy Family Elementary School. Those entering seventh and eighth grades are being invited to enroll in the new junior-high program at Notre Dame. An informational meeting for parents will take place Monday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m. at Notre Dame.
These developments are the result of collaborative decisions by the Diocese of Rochester’s Department of Catholic Schools, the board of trustees at Notre Dame High School and the Sisters of Mercy, which founded Notre Dame High School in 1955.
Anne Willkens Leach, diocesan superintendent of schools, said the decision to close Holy Family Junior High was fueled by low enrollment. She noted that the school currently has 24 sixth-graders, 35 seventh-graders and 26 eighth-graders in the junior high.
"Eighty-five students in grades 6 through 8 are not enough to keep it going (financially)," she said.
Over the past decade, Catholic schools in Elmira have experienced an overall enrollment decline of more than 50 percent in prekindergarten through eighth grades. The closing of Holy Family Junior High will mark the second downsizing in what was formerly a three-school Holy Family system; it had consolidated from three schools to two beginning in 2009-10.
Willkens Leach acknowledged that the closing of Holy Family Junior High means one fewer diocesan school, since Notre Dame is operated independently.
"It’s certainly with sadness whenever we close any school. However, I look at this as a phenomenal opportunity in the Southern Tier," she said, pointing out that Notre Dame will offer superior opportunities for junior-high students in such areas as laboratories, music, sports and foreign languages.
This is the first time grades 7 and 8 have ever been offered at Notre Dame, which currently houses 260 students in grades 9 through 12.
Sister Mary Walter Hickey, RSM, the high school’s president, said that if Notre Dame had not opted to expand its grade offerings in light of Holy Family Junior High’s closing, her high school’s feeder system would have been severely compromised.
Sister Hickey said Notre Dame has adequate space for a junior high, but will have to do some physical restructuring because it doesn’t have a separate wing to use for the younger students. She said tuition for incoming seventh- and eighth-graders will stay the same or only rise slightly above what they’re currently paying at Holy Family, and added that Holy Family staff members are invited to apply for — but not guaranteed — new positions that will be created by starting the junior high.
"I’ve got some very positive feedback from kids and parents," Sister Hickey said. "We think we’re going to be able to offer an excellent program. I look forward to the challenge."