St Constance, St Thecla report that enrollment is steady; both schools opted out of regional plan
by BRIAN NADIG
The two parochial grammar schools which 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 school 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 which will be merging 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 due to the fact that the school has no visibility from a major thoroughfare. “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 of Saint Constance’s 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.
At Saint Thecla, parish members carefully considered the regional plan, but in the end 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 could have led to the closing of the school’s building because it would not have made sense to keep both Saint Tarcissus and Saint Thecla open given how close the two campuses are to each other.
“We make decisions with everyone’s needs in mind. We didn’t feel it was a right fit for us,” Gargano said of the consolidation. “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 offers a wide range of extracurricular activities, including band, choir, art and chess, which attract students to the school, Gargano said. The school’s competitive sports program includes football, soccer, cross country, track, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and cheerleading.
Schools which opted out of the regional plan are no longer eligible for financial assistance from the archdiocese. At a community meeting last winter, an archdiocese official warned that a school which did join the regional plan could find itself in a financial bind if, for example, a roof were to cave in during a storm and that the school would then be closed if it were to run 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, who became the school’s principal in 2012.
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 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 said that Saint Constance has always been a small school, whose enrollment is believed to have never surpassed 300, and that she is excited about the upcoming school year. “My heart and soul are here,” said Panczyk, who has been a teacher and administrator at the school for 37 years.