On Thursday, officials said that at the end of the school year, six elementary schools in the Chicago Archdiocese are slated to close, and more could join that list before the end of the month.
The need to cut $10 million from the schools budget next year gives the archdiocese very little flexibility, according to the superintendent of Chicago Catholic schools, Sister Mary Paul McCaughey. She is urging parents to find new schools for their children.
“Right or wrong we don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up,” McCaughey told the Tribune. “We want it to be very solid. We don’t want any bitterness. We don’t want to be sitting back at the table with the same schools next year.”
To increase enrollment and revenue, McCaughey said she had hoped to give schools more time. However, the archdiocese simply could not afford the same level of subsidies for another school year.
“We are being hard-nosed because these are the savings that have to be achieved,” she said.
McCaughey said that Our Lady of Victory and the Academy of St. Benedict the African in Chicago, Santa Maria del Popolo in Mundelein and St. Christopher in Midlothian have been notified. However, she failed to identify another school that was notified on Thursday night. By the end of the week, parents and faculty with the sixth are expected to be informed.
In the nation’s largest Catholic school system, where total elementary school enrollments has ticked up this school year over last from 60,530 to 60,629 students, news of the closings sparked shock and disappointment. Archdiocese schools spokesman Ryan Blackburn said that some schools have still struggled. According to archdiocese data, enrollment in suburban Cook and Lake Counties has slipped. Administrators looked at schools with low enrollment and demographic challenges in areas where other schools could absorb displaced students.
Additionally, she said that parents of students at each closing school will receive a list of other Catholic schools to consider within a five-mile radius. Scholarships will follow students who enroll at other Catholic schools.
All students will receive $1,000 vouchers, “to say to parents ‘we’re sorry and we hope you continue to choose Catholic education’,” McCaughey said.
By making up the deficit through tuition, other grants and fundraising, families and staff of Our Lady of Victory School say they are committed to trying to stay open. Enrollment has grown by 80 students for a total of 163 kids in the last 18 months. In addition, school has started a new STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and increased the use of technology.
“It was a bit of a shock, because we knew we have been on a bit of an upswing,” Hodge said. “We’ve been here for 100 years, and we hope we can continue for another 100 years.”
According to Manya Brachear Pashman of Chicago Tribune, Santa Maria del Popolo, which has been around for 60 years is currently attended by a total of 80 students.