Parents wonder about school’s future
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Parents expressed concern at the Nov. 12 meeting of the Saint Tarcissus School Council about rumors that several Catholic schools on the Northwest Side could be a part of "regionalization" by the Archdiocese of Chicago, but they were offered no answers from school officials.
About 30 parents attended the meeting at the school, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave., expressing concern stemming from an announcement by Saint Cornelius Parish pastor the Reverend Daniel Fallon in the church bulletin on Nov. 9 about a possible merger of several Northwest Side Catholic schools.
Saint Cornelius was able to avoid being closed by raising about $250,000 in a 4-week time frame that was given by the archdiocese, Fallon said in the bulletin.
Fallon said that the option of regionalizing Saint Cornelius was presented at the "last minute" by the Office of Catholic Schools in order to have the school removed from a list of schools to be closed. The archdiocese announced on Oct. 29 that six schools will close, including Saint Ladislaus and Saint Hyacinth on the Northwest Side and Saint Peter in Skokie.
"I agreed, and asked that our name be removed from the closure list," Fallon said in the statement. "In truth, I feel that this is the only way Catholic education will continue to thrive in our archdiocese. Besides, I feel honored that Saint Cornelius was chosen to be one of the first schools to enter into this process."
The regionalization process involves "the combining of several parochial schools in a given area into one independent academic institution that is sustained by the students, faculties and staffs, and finances of the parishes involved," Fallon said.
In response to Fallon’s announcement, Office of Catholic Schools chief operations officer Tom McGrath stated in an e-mail message: "In line with the strategic plan, the Archdiocese of Chicago has an ongoing commitment to evaluate all its schools, not just on the Northwest Side, on an individual and regional basis. The composition of a regional plan for the Northwest Side community has not yet been confirmed and would not be announced until school communities are fully informed."
There is no information available about which parish school would become the host campus in the area, which reportedly would involve at least four other schools. Also undecided is when the regionalization plan would go into effect. According to Fallon, the plan could take several months and "an exact timeline for implementation has not yet been determined."
"This initiative is under way, and we are involved," Fallon said in the statement. "That’s a fact. We have the opportunity to help shape Catholic education in the archdiocese for years to come. That’s an exciting prospect."
Parents expressed anger at Fallon’s announcement. Saint Tarcissus Parish pastor the Reverend Michael Solazzo was not at the meeting because he was on a retreat.
"We need to have a response regarding this," parent Joe DiCiaula said. "It is out of this world that we have to wait for Friday to have a response. The pastor can’t be living in a vacuum. It’s is all on our minds. A lack of communication is unacceptable."
Saint Tarcissus Parish pastor the Reverend Michael Solazzo returned from a retreat on Nov. 14, but he has yet to address the rumors.
Saint Tarcissus principal Michael Johnson told parents at the meeting that he had not spoken to Solazzo and that he did not know if the school was a part of a reorganization.
"This lack of communication is making people feel like we can’t count on the parish," one parent said.
"All we want to know is are we in the merger?" another parent said. "We are getting a lot of different reactions from many different sources."
Some members of the school council said that they did not think the school would be closing because it recently completed a project to mitigate sound from jet traffic at O’Hare International Airport. The school was awarded a $4.9 million noise abatement grant from the Federal Aviation Administration and $1.225 million from the Chicago Department of Aviation for new acoustical windows, additional roof and ceiling insulation, improved doors and new heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.
"I know nothing from the archdiocese," Johnson said. "I was surprised by this just as you are. "Everybody is scared and worried." Johnson said that the archdiocese has kept silent regarding the issue.
Johnson became the school’s principal this year after former principal Roy Hecker retired after 18 years as a teacher at the school and 9 years as the school’s principal. While Hecker was at Saint Tarcissus, enrollment peaked in the mid-1990s at about 675, compared to 425 in the late 1980s. Current enrollment is about 300 students.