Three area schools set to close


by SEAN KEENEHAN

Citing low enrollments and a limited budget, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced on Oct. 29 that they will close or consolidate 13 schools at the end of the school year.

Among the schools to be closed are Saint Hyacinth School, 3640 W. Wolfram St., Saint Ladislaus School, 3300 N. Lockwood Ave., and Saint Peter School, 8140 Niles Center Road, Skokie.

"This decision, made by Cardinal Francis George, was not taken lightly," Saint Hyacinth principal Christine Huzenis wrote in an online letter. "Due to our history of dependence on the Archdiocese for financial support and with continued enrollment under 200 students, we cannot financially continue to sustain Saint Hyacinth Basilica School."

Saint Ladislaus principal Catherine Scotovsky also posted a letter online stating that school will be closed due to low enrollment and "the proximity of very good Catholic schools" to Saint Ladislaus.

The schools are closing as part of the archdiocese’s "2013-2016 Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools," which was approved by the Archdiocesan Board of Catholic Schools in response to a multi-million dollar deficit. The strategic plan sets guidelines for the economic sustainability of archdiocesan schools, including criteria such as having an enrollment of at least 225 students, financial stability and changes in area demographics. The Office of Catholic Schools held meetings with more than 30 endangered schools and set improvement goals for fall in May.

"Supporting many low enrollment schools, particularly those with demographic challenges, spreads our scarce resources very thin and limits our ability to invest dollars in strengthening viable school offerings for our students," Cardinal Francis George wrote in a letter posted on the archdiocese Web site.

The plan will affect more 220 school employees and approximately 1,280 students, according to church officials. More than one-third of the affected students are from the three area schools, including 159 students at Saint Hyacinth, 116 at Saint Ladislaus and 66 at Saint Peter. Enrollment at Saint Peter decreased by more than 60 students from last year, and the school had a 56 percent decrease in enrollment over the past four years, according to church officials.

While some of the affected schools will consolidate with other schools, students who are displaced by the closings will have to find a new school to attend. Saint Hyacinth and Saint Ladislaus each held a meeting for parents with an archdiocesan representative present on Monday, Nov. 3, and Saint Peter will hold a meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 5. The archdiocese will provide assistance plans and material about other area Catholic schools, and also created a Web site to assist relocating and families at schools.archchicago.org/pathways.

"We are committed to working with all affected families to ensure a smooth transition to a strong Catholic school alternative," George said. "We remain as committed as ever to Catholic education, and we believe a more appropriately sized network will enable us to strengthen our system and serve our children more effectively."

Other Catholic schools that have been threatened with closing are Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., which raised close to $250,000 in a 4-week time frame given by the archdiocese in September, and Our Lady of Victory School, 4434 N. Laramie Ave., which demonstrated that it could raise $400,000 in each of the next 3 years by raising more than $900,000 before the start of the 2014-2015 academic school year.

The closing of the area schools will represent a loss of local history to their respective communities. Saint Peter was established in 1873, Saint Hyacinth opened in 1894, and Saint Ladislaus opened in 1914.

"Everybody is suffering, mostly the school," Saint Ladislaus Parish pastor Marek Janowski said. "This affects the church in that we are losing the younger generation that brought us so much vitality."

"I will look for various ways to make the rest of the school year full of memories," Scotcovsky said.


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