Students have generally aced the test of adjusting to a new environment, according to principals of four Catholic schools formed through mergers during 2005.
"It was a great year for us, and the students seemed to smoothly transition," said Kathy Dougherty of Cathedral School at Sacred Heart.
"They’re happy and content, and that is what this is all about," added Angela Fortunato of Catherine McAuley School in Greece.
Classrooms at Rochester’s St. John Neumann School "have made a wonderful adjustment," according to Marie Arcuri.
"The kids were terrific about this, very open to making new friends," said Mary Caffrey of St. John Bosco School in Seneca Falls.
However, some parents of the schools that closed apparently have found adapting to be a tougher assignment.
"We’ve tried to work as much as we can with parents to help them," Fortunato said. "But there is a lot of hurt, just a lot of pain."
"I think it’s easier on the kids. Kids are extremely resilient and very much live in the moment. They don’t have the same sense of history," Caffrey said.
Arcuri said she arranged get-togethers this past school year involving families of St. John Neumann.
"It was our hope that at these social gathering our parents would get to know each other a better. This did happen, but even after one year, there are still some hurt feelings," she acknowledged.
Fueled by steadily declining enrollment, the mergers took effect at the start of the 2005-06 school year. In Monroe County, Rochester’s St. John the Evangelist (Humboldt Street) closed its building to merge with St. Ambrose, forming St. John Neumann School in the St. Ambrose building; Greece’s St. John the Evangelist closed to merge with St. Charles Borromeo, creating Catherine McAuley School in the St. Charles building; and Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral School closed as part of a merger into the Cathedral Community at Holy Rosary School, located on the Holy Rosary campus. In addition, St. Helen’s School in Gates — which, like the other six schools, had served grades pre-kindergarten through 6 — closed but did not consolidate with any other school.
In Seneca County, St. Mary School in Waterloo closed in 2005 and became part of St. John Bosco School at the St. Patrick campus in Seneca Falls. St. John Bosco is a pre-K through 8 school, as were St. Mary and St. Patrick.
The mergers called for a blending of faculties and staffs. Students of the affected schools were encouraged, but not obligated, to enroll at the merged schools. All four merged schools saw a decline in 2005-06 enrollments compared to the combined 2004-05 enrollments of the affected schools: St. John Bosco had approximately 130 students in 2005-06 compared to a total of 245 for St. Mary and St. Patrick in 2004-05; St. John Neumann had 200 students compared to 245 for St. John the Evangelist and St. Ambrose combined; Cathedral School at Holy Rosary had 165 students compared to 215 for Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary combined; and Catherine McAuley housed 120 students compared to 195 for St. John the Evangelist and St. Charles combined.
Dougherty said only 18 students came over to the Holy Rosary building from Sacred Heart.
"Many of them said they were going to K through 8 schools such as Holy Cross and Our Mother of Sorrows, so they wouldn’t have to continue switching schools as frequently," she said.
Meanwhile, Fortunato said St. John the Evangelist in Greece sent just eight students.
Acknowledging that she was "disappointed" by the number of students who moved from Waterloo to Seneca Falls, Caffrey said she still hopes Waterloo families will reconsider for the coming year. She emphasized that parish leaders, faculty, staff and parents of current St. John Bosco students are strongly committed to making the merger work.
"I think that was evident all year long. I would be hard pressed to tell you anything I wished they worked harder at," Caffrey said, adding that "everything we did this year we referred to as the ‘first annual.’ We tried very hard, very consciously not to do business at St. John Bosco as if it were St. Patrick’s with a new name."
Other schools have emphasized the positive as well. St. John Neumann adopted a yearlong theme of "Creating a Neumann Catholic School Community." This involved making of a new worship space in the gym for prayer services, and scheduling fun theme days designed to get students of different grades to know each other better.
"It takes time to be a real success, but St. John Neumann School is on its way," Arcuri remarked.
At Cathedral School at Holy Rosary, Dougherty observed that the merger was a financial plus for some. Since Holy Rosary was a Wegmans Inner City Voucher (WIN) school — and the merged structure continues to be supported by WIN funds — former Sacred Heart families now qualify for financial aid that wasn’t previously available to them.
"For them it was a huge bonus," Dougherty said.
Optimistic steps at Catherine McAuley School have included an open house; distribution of a promotional flyer; and burying of a time capsule at the end of this past school year. As the transition fades more into the past, Fortunato said, "This year I’m hoping people will be more into the whole McAuley thing."
She can empathize with those who have struggled to adjust: Fortunato served as principal of St. John Humboldt for the 10 years prior to its closing. She said she has sought to apply her enthusiasm for that principalship to her new position.
"It’s all about the spirit you take with you," she remarked.