The archdiocesan Office of the Superintendent of Schools announced Feb. 6 that five Catholic elementary schools will close and one will transition to a universal pre-k (UPK) at the end of the current academic year.
St. Ann School, Visitation School and St. Mary School, all in the Bronx, and St. Gregory the Great School in Manhattan—whose parishes merged with neighboring parishes as part of the 2013 Making All Things New archdiocesan-wide planning initiative—will cease operations at the end of the current academic year.
A news release issued by the superintendent of schools office stated that despite the archdiocese’s best efforts to maintain the operational and financial viability of those schools in light of the closure of their co-located parish, continuing to educate students in a school where a significant portion of the facility is unutilized has proven infeasible.
St. Peter’s Regional School in Liberty, Sullivan County, will also cease operations at the end of the current school year. The school had seen a decline in enrollment in recent years and consequently transitioned from a full-service elementary school to a pre-k to fourth grade school. The archdiocese will provide families with support to enroll students at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown, a distance of 38 miles, or other local schools.
SS. Peter and Paul School in the Bronx will change, in September, from a kindergarten through eighth grade school to a UPK school to meet the increasing demands in the community for additional early childhood and UPK services. Current SS. Peter and Paul School students will be offered seats at neighboring Catholic schools.
St. Ann School, Visitation School and St. Mary School students will have the opportunity to continue their Catholic education in the Bronx at St. Brendan School, St. John’s School in Kingsbridge and Our Lady of Grace, respectively, or at other neighborhood Catholic schools.
Students from St. Gregory the Great School can be enrolled at nearby Ascension School, or other local Catholic schools.
Current enrollment figures at the six schools, provided by the Superintendent of Schools office, are as follows: St. Ann’s, 262; St. Mary’s, 234; St. Gregory’s, 205; SS. Peter and Paul, 176; Visitation, 152, and St. Peter’s Regional, 62.
The Office of the Superintendent’s Directors of Enrollment will work to help school families make a smooth transition to another Catholic school for the 2017-2018 school year. Additional information and resources for affected families will be shared in the coming days.
“We understand these are challenging times for many families, and we will work with all students who are seeking to continue their Catholic education to find a seat at another excellent school in the archdiocese,” said Dr. McNiff in the Feb. 6 announcement.
“These are difficult but necessary decisions, and working together we will ensure our Catholic schools are stronger than ever,” he added.
Speaking with CNY on Feb. 14, Dr. McNiff said it is an appropriate time to review “where the entire school system is, but particularly where we are with our regional strategy that we did five years ago.”
“I’m very pleased that when we look to see what progress we have made, with our archdiocesan school system K through 12, we’re in a much better place than we were five years ago,” he said.
The superintendent is also pleased, he said, with the leadership of the boards and administration at the high school level. “Clearly, they have strengthened the sustainability and the excellence in academics and Catholic identity at the 46 high schools.”
In that same time span, the regional school system of 96 schools is stronger, Dr. McNiff said, “because of the changes made in our strategic plan—stronger financially, absolutely stronger academically and while I have the utmost of confidence in how they’re helping children in their spiritual development, we continue to work on making those efforts and the strategies that emulated from our plan, to be our priority.”
“It should be stated,” Dr. McNiff continued, “there is still work to be done in our regional plan, in terms of enrollment growth—we’re starting to see growth in our enrollment, in many of our schools—not all, but that will come.”
Part of the strategic plan, “this was intentional,” he said, was to focus on early childhood “because it’s important to build the pipeline of enrollment from the very beginning so that strength can be sustained over eight years.
“What we are seeing this current year, and with the earlier admission process we have now, for next year, is very strong trends in preschool and in kindergarten.
“We are today in February where we were probably in May of last year,” he said of enrollment figures for the younger pupils.
“Our school system is a subset of a larger archdiocesan system,” Dr. McNiff said. “And we always have to work in tandem with where the needs and the priorities of the archdiocese are. And this is an example of that as these schools make these adjustments.”
To the students affected by the recent operational changes, Dr. McNiff assures them “they are still getting a terrific education that’s going to bode well for them for a lifetime.”
“When I go visit these schools, I’m just heartened by what occurs on a daily basis in those classrooms. This archdiocese continues to make Catholic education a priority for the students and their families.”