Less Will Be More

Feb. 2-8, 2006
Less Will Be More
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Four ‘new’ diocesan schools emerge from eight in Syracuse

The snowstorm outside on the night of Jan. 25 wasn’t much different from the storm inside the packed gymnasium at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School when parents gathered to meet with Catholic school administrators about the restructuring plan for diocesan schools. The three new schools emerging from the process will be renamed: Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary, Bishop’s Academy at St. Charles Borromeo and Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family. Schools that will be closed as of June 2006 are St. Patrick’s, St. Ann’s, St. James and Cathedral. Schools involved in the consolidation process include those in Syracuse’s south/southwest corridor: St. Patrick’s on Schuyler Street, St. Ann’s on Onondaga Blvd., St. James on South Salina Street, Holy Family in Fairmount, Most Holy Rosary on Bellvue Ave. and St. Charles Borromeo, West High Terrace.

A press conference was held before the parent meeting. There Bishop James Moynihan told reporters about an innovative plan to strengthen the area’s schools by consolidating them into a “more efficient Catholic school system.” Another announcement that reflected changing times is the new Cathedral International Catholic Academy at Our Lady of Pompei. The academy will be multi-cultural with adult programs and English as a Second Language offered. The Guardian Angel Society which supports Cathedral School students will now help students at the new school. Le Moyne College will work with students, faculty and administrators offering opportunities for Le Moyne as well. Father Charles Beirne, SJ, president of Le Moyne, was at the press conference and the parent meeting. He explained that the partnership between Le Moyne and the diocesan schools will offer opportunities for mentoring; creation of lessons relevant to diversity, arts and culture; and utilization of the school at Our Lady of Pompei as a learning center.

Dr. Linda LeMura, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Le Moyne, said that the college has always been interested in experiences involving service to the diocese. “Our professors will be engaged in professional development opportunities for the teachers and administrators of the diocese,” LeMura said. “And we’ll be offering a wide range of educational opportunities for students. For example, our professors will offer laboratory science and field experience, multiple language opportunities throughout the diocese and opportunities for field trips. Plays, music and art events at Le Moyne will be open to the students.” Le Moyne administrators said they see the collaboration as a win-win situation.

“This is consistent with the Jesuit mission,” LeMura said. “We want our students to be steeped in service, to get involved in the community at a grassroots level. And, I hope parents realize this is an opportunity for a more meaningful educational experience for their kids.” The positive news about the new Cathedral International Catholic Academy at Our Lady of Pompei was somewhat overshadowed at the meeting, however, as parents from the schools in the south/southwest corridor dominated the floor with their questions and comments regarding the consolidation. Many parents expressed anger and frustration at the diocese for the school closings, some saying they were blindsided by the announcement and some of their children heard the news of their schools closing on local television stations.

Administrators explained the decision-making process first during the press conference when Michael Colabufo, the new superintendent for diocesan Catholic schools, spoke to reporters and then later to parents. The Visioning Committee that came up with the plan was led by Ahern and Murphy Consultants and was made up of approximately 50 people, including five representatives from each parish community involved and the pastors. They began meeting in September and reviewed enrollment, building facilities, financial information and expansion capabilities to help determine the best sites for the three new schools.

“Demographics have changed dramatically throughout Onondaga County and resources for both public and non-public educational institutions are strapped at every possible level,” Colabufo said. “At the same time we do not have the luxury of public financial support. So, in order to remain stable and vibrant, our Catholic Schools must rely only on tuition, parish support and development efforts. Unfortunately, in the present configuration, our resources are stretched to their limits.” Colabufo cited the benefits of the new arrangement saying that there will be a stronger focus on science and language in the early grades, enhanced academic programming for advanced students, and remedial, tutorial, speech and counseling services for students at the three academies. He also stated that the fine arts programs and athletics will be expanded. Administrators also told parents that a two-year tuition schedule has been introduced for schools throughout the diocese. There will be a $195 increase next year and again the following year. For students enrolled in the new academies, there will be a reduced rate for the second and third child enrolled and that will include those enrolled in junior/senior high schools. Parents will not be charged tuition for more than three children enrolled.

Another aspect that was discussed was faculty. There is a hiring freeze in place for the Western Region schools. All teachers and administrators of the schools impacted will be encouraged to apply for the new teaching positions offered at the schools. As these are new positions in newly-established schools, they will all have to go through the interview process regardless of seniority. Catholic school officials said they plan to have administrators in place by Feb. 10 with teaching staff to follow a month or so later. The plan means the loss of 16 to 20 teachers, Colabufo estimated.

Tim Ahern served as facilitator for the Vision Committee and said that the parents’ reaction to the plan was typical. “Once the administrators are in place, then teachers, they will be able to see how this will come together. Right now there are a lot of assumptions of the worst, but really there is a hope that it will be better than today,” Ahern said.

ANY PARENT WITH QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS IS INVITED TO CALL MICHAEL COLABUFO’S OFFICE AT (315) 470-1450 OR E-MAIL diosupt@syrdiocese.org .

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