Enrollment steady at two grade schools
by BRIAN NADIG
The two Catholic grammar schools that opted out of a Northwest Side consolidation plan report that enrollment for this fall is steady and that the schools are in solid financial shape.
Enrollment at Saint Constance School, 5841 W. Strong St., is expected to be around the 186 students who attended the school last year, while enrollment at Saint Thecla School, 6323 N. Newcastle Ave., is projected to be 215, up from 210 last year.
Saint Constance and Saint Thecla were two of the six schools which the Archdiocese of Chicago invited to merge due to enrollment concerns. Archdiocese officials said that it made sense to close at least two of the schools in part because they were in close proximity to each other.
The schools that will merge in the fall of 2016 are Saint Tarcissus School, 6040 W. Ardmore Ave., Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., Saint Pascal School, 6143 W. Irving Park Road, and Our Lady of Victory School, 4434 N. Laramie Ave. Saint Tarcissus and Saint Pascal will be the host campuses for the regional school.
Saint Constance principal Eva Panczyk said that the biggest challenge facing the school is name recognition because it is not visible from a major street. "We just can’t get the word out fast enough," Panczyk said of the school’s tradition and accomplishments. "It’s a gem that is quite hidden, to be honest."
Many Saint Constance graduates attend selective enrollment high schools, and the school offers before- and after-school care programs and enrichment classes, including dance, engineering and home economics, Panczyk said.
Members of Saint Thecla Parish considered participating in the regional plan, but there was a strong desire to continue the school’s tradition, principal Dan Gargano said. Many parish members had expressed concern that the regional plan would have resulted in the school closing because of its proximity to Saint Thecla.
"We make decisions with everyone’s needs in mind," Gargano said. "We didn’t feel it was a right fit for us. We have some families which go as deep as four generations here."
The school has a strong curriculum that helps graduates succeed in high school, and it offers a range of extracurricular activities such as band, choir, art and chess which attract students, Gargano said. The school’s sports program includes football, soccer, cross country, track, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and cheerleading.
The schools that opted out of the regional plan are no longer eligible for financial assistance from the archdiocese. An archdiocese official said at a community meeting last winter that schools that do not join the regional plan would be liable for any expenses, such as major repairs, and that they would be closed if they ran a deficit.
Gargano said that his school was not receiving financial assistance from the archdiocese. "We are financially sound, as we always have been," said Gargano.
Panczyk said that Saint Constance had been receiving a "minimal" amount of financial help from the archdiocese. The school recently received a large donation from an individual who graduated from the school in the 1940s, and it participates in grant programs which offer tuition assistance, she said.
Both Gargano and Panczyk said that reaction to the decision to remain independent and not join the regional plan has been positive.
"It is a great school and a great community," Gargano said.
Panczyk, who has been a teacher and administrator at Saint Constance for 37 years, said that she does not believe that enrollment at the school has ever surpassed 300 and that she is excited about the upcoming school year. "My heart and soul are here," she said.