Nazareth Schools and Aquinas Institute to merge - Catholic Courier
In this file photo from June 2007, Nazareth Academy students work on a project during a 
pre-engineering class. In this file photo from June 2007, Nazareth Academy students work on a project during a pre-engineering class.

Nazareth Schools and Aquinas Institute to merge

ROCHESTER — The Nazareth Schools will merge with Aquinas Institute by September 2010 to create a new coeducational school system serving students from preschool to high school, officials announced during a Feb. 3 press conference at Aquinas.

The Nazareth Schools — which are a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph — had been motivated to explore the change by current and projected enrollment declines in grades 9 to 12 as well as the economic downturn, Nazareth officials said. Nazareth Academy currently has 450 students enrolled in grades 7 to 12, while Aquinas’ enrollment for the same grades is currently 888.

The Nazareth Schools comprise Nazareth Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school of grades 9 to 12, and Nazareth Hall, a coeducational preschool, elementary school and middle school for students through eighth grade.

Aquinas Institute, which was founded by the Basilian fathers and is now run by a board of trustees, is a coeducational junior high and high school for grades 7 to 12.

The merged school system will be called Aquinas Institute and Nazareth Schools, and offer a coeducational Catholic school system for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. Pre-kindergarten through grade 6 will be located at the current Nazareth Academy building on Lake Avenue. That building will become the feeder for the merged middle- and high-school grades, which will be located at Aquinas’ campus on Dewey Avenue.

Recently, Nazareth Schools announced that they had sold to the new University Preparatory Charter School the Raines Park building in which Nazareth Hall pre-kindergarten and elementary grades have been located. At the time of the announcement, Nazareth officials said they planned to consolidate the school’s pre-kindergarten through 12th grade program at the Lake Avenue building.

The merger with Aquinas effectively ends the legacy of single-sex education offered by the all-girls Nazareth Academy. To help maintain their emphasis on the development of young women, the Sisters of St. Joseph, who have operated Nazareth Academy since it opened in 1871, will staff a position at Aquinas that will be focused on women’s leadership and development.

"We believe we can serve as a model in our community that a pre-K-through-12 private, Catholic education in Rochester is viable and long-lasting," said Sister Mary Louise Mitchell, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester.

Aquinas President Michael R. Daley said his school has enough space to accommodate all of Nazareth’s current seventh- through 12th-graders. He added that the Nazareth girls would be able to enroll in college-level courses at Aquinas and also could take advantage of the school’s recent facilities upgrades, including a fine arts center, stadium, student union, fitness center, library and auditorium.

Daley said Aquinas is looking forward to incorporating the unique elements of Nazareth Academy’s program — including its science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum — and hopes to also offer some of its extracurricular activities such as its dance and robotics teams.

"This decision ensures that our enrollment will be strong and viable for years to come," Daley said.

The move also will enable the new school system to minimize tuition increases, he added. Next year’s tuition will increase to $7,700 for high schoolers and $5,450 for junior-high students. Aquinas tuition for the 2009-10 school year was $7,500 for the high school and $5,250 for the junior high, while the Nazareth Schools tuition was $7,200 for the Academy and $4,800 for Nazareth Hall Middle School.

It is as yet unclear whether Nazareth Academy faculty or staff will lose jobs; that will depend on next year’s enrollment, Sister Mitchell said.

The Nazareth Schools and Aquinas also will merge their endowments, resulting in an $11 million endowment fund that the merged school hopes to increase to $25 million, Daley said. Scholarships committed to Nazareth Academy students will be maintained, Sister Mitchell noted.

Hours after word circulated that Nazareth would be merging with Aquinas Institute, more than 1,000 members had joined a social-networking group Save Naz Academy from Extinction, which was posted to the Web site Facebook.

Evelyn Shepard, one of the administrators of the Facebook group and a 2009 graduate of Nazareth Academy, said she and other administrators were in awe of the group’s quick growth, but that growth demonstrates how connected the Nazareth Schools community is.

"For me (the group) has been a really good support because people have been posting memories and how they are feeling," said Shepard, 18. "It really made me realize all of us are going through the same emotions."

Shepard, a Rochester resident and freshman at Nazareth College, said students were aware that Nazareth Academy attendance was declining and knew changes might be coming, but they were still shocked by the announcement.

"I don’t think anyone expected it to be this soon," she said.

Shepard was one of many alumnae who have said they were sad to see the end of the option for an all-girls education west of the Genesee River. Shepard noted that Nazareth Academy’s all-female environment helped her shed a shy personality.

"I don’t think I would have been the same person I am today if I hadn’t attended Nazareth Academy," she said. "I think a lot of people feel that same way, which is why the loss is so big."

Nazareth Academy also built the confidence of alumna Shannon Culligan.

"I went to a coed elementary school," Culligan said. "You feel like you have to fit in a stereotype of your gender. With all girls, it just made you be who you are."

Culligan, a freshman at SUNY Geneseo, said she hopes some of Nazareth’s strengths will be preserved as its students move to other schools, including its focus on science, its award-winning dance program and its athletic teams, which include the state-champion girl’s varsity basketball team.

"I really hope the sports can be carried on," Culligan said. "Because Nazareth is such a small school, we’ve made tremendous advances in sports."

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