NW Side residents hear plan to save school from closing
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
More than 300 members of Our Lady of Victory Parish packed the school hall on Jan. 10 to hear officials discuss what plan they must present to the Archdiocese of Chicago by Jan. 20 that proves that the parish school will be self-sufficient in the future to avoid closing at the end of the school year.
Our Lady of Victory pastor Robert Fedek said that it is hard to accept the possibility that the school might close and that he understands that people are angry and hurt by the archdiocese’s decision.
"This is truly a historic moment in the history of Our Lady of Victory Parish, especially knowing how wonderful history we have behind us, (with) 100 years of beautiful service to the communities of Portage Park and Jefferson Park," Fedek said.
"I see it as a moment of crisis where we can almost lose a part of who were are," Fedek said. "Our identity of Our Lady of Victory is so connected to the parish and the school. We can’t imagine existing without such an important ministry."
Fedek said that as people think about making financial pledges and donating to the school, they should consider the accomplishments made in the last 18 months under school principal Jennifer Hodge.
"We almost doubled our enrollment from 91 to 170 students, which is amazing," Fedek said. "Unfortunately we are running short on time. We understand that the archdiocese is also short on resources, but we also understand our potential."
"That is just unheard of at many schools through the area and the archdiocese to double enrollment in 18 months," Hodge said. She said that in addition to increasing enrollment, the school has invested in technology and features iPads, projection technology and an innovation lab.
Hodge said that for the first time this year the school offers two preschool classrooms for 3-year-olds and two for 4-year-olds. The school also added foreign language classes and clubs and activities, and the school’s graduation rate has increased, she said.
"We are good until June 30," Hodge said. "What we have to do in the next two weeks is come up with a plan that going forward, meaning July 1, we have to prove that we are going to maintain and sustain a balanced budget going forward with a zero deficit or even better, a surplus.
"What is required of us is that not only do we need sustainable budget starting July 1. We have to put in a plan in place that we can maintain and sustain going forward, not just for the next three years."
Hodge said that a self-sustaining school usually has about 250 students. She said that as the parish budgets for the future, officials would try to budget for 180 students for the first year and increase that number going forward.
Hodge said that and effort will be made to reach out to the community, alumni, businesses and donors, and work on grant writing, budgeting, helping in the office, volunteering and fund-raising.
Fund-raising events will be held on Jan. 23 at the Gale Street Inn, 4914 N. Milwaukee Ave., and from 5 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 28 at La Villa Restaurant, 3632 N. Pulaski Road. The restaurants will donate a portion of their proceeds to the school.
"I like to get things done and I think that I’ve proved that to you in the last 18 months that I have been here," Hodge said. "The only thing that is stopping us right now is how we are going to erase this deficit, but let’s face it when it comes down to money, you make some changes and you make it work."
"I think the (number) of people that we have here this evening speaks volumes, but also because of all the attention that we have been getting we will be taken highly into consideration, so I am very confident that we can prove to the archdiocese that we can be successful and create strategic place and we would be good to go," Hodge said.
School board member Al Schorch said that the archdiocese has been funding the school over the past 3 years as a start-up venture.
"This school is going according to plan, and (archdiocese superintendent Sister Mary Paul McCaughey) was in tears when she told us about this," Schorch said. "She was sincere in that she wanted this school to go according to plan, but they are in a crisis too and they had to shorten the runway, so we have to make up the difference."
Many residents expressed frustration with the archdiocese because they said that the school was not given sufficient time to raise the funds. Some residents suggested that the parish take up an extra collection during Sunday masses.
"We are looking for more than just the collection to fill a gap of a couple of thousand dollars," Fedek said. "We are talking about a pledge from many people, a substantial amount over a period of time. We need to have a plan."
Hodge said that people can make pledges online at www.olvchicago.org.
One resident said that the archdiocese set the school up for failure. "Sure, we can get people to give $500 or $50, but how are we going to raise $400,000 in 10 days?" the resident said. "We’ve been set up to fail."