Three schools unite to form Notre Dame Elementary School

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

UTICA — Camille Caulkins is very excited about the first day of school. After 22 years of teaching, Caulkins knows this year will bring with it some big changes. Her third grade classroom will be a part of the newly-formed Notre Dame Elementary School.

After much deliberation, school officials determined that it would benefit students to consolidate three schools in the greater Utica area. In September, students and teachers of St. Mary’s School in Clinton and St. Peter’s School in Utica will join the teachers and students of Our Lady of Lourdes School. “I’m eagerly anticipating working with the students and teachers,” said Caulkins.

The Our Lady of Lourdes School building housed 321 students last year. This school year, 388 youths will attend due to the consolidation. Last year, 120 students were enrolled at St. Mary’s and 100 at St. Peter’s.

Judy Hauck, principal at Notre Dame Elementary school, said that the discussion concerning the consolidation of the schools has been taking place for the last 18 months. All three schools experienced declining enrollment. A committee which included officials from the three schools, Joseph Salerno, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Utica, Christopher Mominey, superintendent of the diocesan Catholic schools office and Sister Anna Mae Collins, CSJ, principal at Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School, considered a number of factors. “In discussing the vision for the schools, we considered enrollment, pupil cost and economic viability,” said Hauck. “We wanted to consolidate the resources from each school.”

Students from Notre Dame Elementary School will benefit from the enhancement of an art and technology teacher. The art teacher previously taught at St. Mary’s School and the technology teacher taught at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary’s Schools. Not all of Notre Dame’s students had access to the art and technology teacher in previous years. A development director has also been hired to create an endowment as well as capital improvement accounts.

“The consolidation offers a lot of possibilities,” said Hauck. “It makes the system more uniform. Now there’s a lot more assistance for the students who need extra help. We were able to increase the remedial program to include a math specialist.”

Carol Polito, assistant principal at Notre Dame Elementary School, feels very positive about the consolidation of the schools. “I believe this was very much needed,” Polito said. “We’ll be able to coordinate all of our academic and financial efforts.”

The teachers at the new school recently attended a three-day workshop entitled “Positive Behavior Intervention Support” to help prepare them for the transition. “We examined what works and what doesn’t,” said Caulkins.

Hauck said that the teachers were anxious to get into their classrooms to prepare for the upcoming school year, but renovations and the integration of classroom items from the other schools were causing some delays. A roof was replaced and some of the masonry on the building was repaired. “We are still in the process of finding a security system that will enhance the one that is there,” said Hauck.

On September 27, a picnic will be offered to the students and their parents as a means for them to become acquainted with one another. “It’ll be a ‘getting-to-know-you’ function with a carnival atmosphere,” said Hauck. “We’re going to do our part to make everything as positive as it can be.”

“We’re looking forward to bringing all our students and teachers together and having a great year,” added Polito.

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