Guerin Prep HS closing after nearly 60 years of educating students due to declining enrollment and financial woes
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
The class of 2020 at Guerin Prep High School in River Grove will be the last class to graduate from the Catholic school after a decision has been made to close due to declining enrollment, low fund-raising and an increasing need for student financial aid.
The school, at 8001 W. Belmont Ave., will close on June 30, with the last day for students on May 28, according to officials.
“Declining enrollment has tremendously affected the school,” Guerin Prep president Tom Bednar said. Bednar said that the school has about 240 students this year, compared to 400 students in the 2015-16 school year, and 650 students in the 2008-09 school year.
In a letter to alumni, Bednar said that the school has been trying to overcome financial challenges for the past several years and that a decline in placement testing and enrollment, combined with the increasing need for tuition assistance and low fund-raising have contributed to the closing.
The letter states that about 75 percent of students required more than $1.6 million in tuition assistance this year, but the school struggled to award about $900,000 in financial aid. The school’s tuition for this year is $11,900, according to the school Web site.
“The financial burden of families in the community and persistent rumors of the school closing have led to a declining enrollment over the past 16 years. During this time the school stayed true to its mission despite the yearly financial challenges to serve students. Given the enrollment numbers for next year, we believe it is impossible to continue providing a truly exemplary, student-centric Catholic high school education at 80th and Belmont,” the letter states.
Bednar said that a key benchmark before the decision to close was the number of students who would take the placement exam.
“We wanted to be at 75 students next year and we only had 64 that took the enrollment test,” Bednar said. “Combined with that, and the need for tuition assistance, we worried that we would enormously stretch families thin. It’s a very, very hard decision to close.”
Bednar said that transition teams would assist students to identify the best options for completing their high school education. A student fair with representatives from other area Catholic high schools will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the school.
The school will hold meetings for parents and junior and senior students at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, for parents and freshmen and sophomore students.
Bednar said that as he walks in the school halls he feels a sense of sadness since the school announced it would be closing, however, the students seem to be ready for the future.
“They understand what is happening and I think the general feeling is ‘We have 4 1/2 months left together so lets make the most of it,” Bednar said.
In a press release, the school said that more than 20,000 young men and women from Northwest Chicago and the suburbs have graduated from Mother Theodore Guerin, Holy Cross and Guerin Prep over the past years.
Guerin prep was founded as an all-girls school known as Mother Theodore Guerin High School in 1962 by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary of the Woods. In 2004 the school accepted students from the all-boys Holy Cross High School when it closed and changed its named to Guerin College Preparatory High School in 2005.
Bednar said that he was not sure what would happen with the school building. He said that the Archdiocese of Chicago would get control of the land and most likely sell it to a developer. The archdiocese gave the land to the Sisters of Providence with the condition that it would be used to educate students.
Guerin bought 14 acres of the former Holy Cross property in 2005 bringing the size of the campus to 22.7 acres. In 2010, Guerin Prep sold 4 acres of the former Holy Cross High School campus to the archdiocese for $3.75 million.
Recently, it was also reported that a developer is seeking to build 48 townhouses and 40 condominiums on the old Holy Cross land in River Grove.
“If you look at what’s happening with Catholic schools in general in the city and especially out here for families to the west in areas like Franklin Park and Schiller Park, once we are gone it’s going to be a Catholic school desert,” Bednar said.