Ending months of anxious waiting and speculation about which schools will accept students for the 2014-15 academic year, ten elementary Catholic school closings were announced in Januaryas part of a sweeping effort to overhaul Catholic education in Western New York.
Because of ongoing declines in enrollment and bleak demographic projections, Catholic schools across Western New York, even in the area's most affluent suburbs, are expected to be affected, too.
"We're making the best choices we can," said Carol Kostyniak, the diocese's secretary for Catholic education. "We would keep every building open if we could, but it would be irresponsible to do that."
However, diocese officials said that despite the past closings, the diocese still has too many school buildings operating below capacity and parishes spending beyond their means on elementary schools.
"We're subsidizing at a rate of $13.8 million per year to elementary education. If we do nothing, that figure is going to go to $18 million in five years, and we can't sustain that," Kostyniak said.
As reported by Jay Tokasz of The Buffalo News, a more strategic pruning of the remaining 51 Catholic elementary schools in eight counties will revitalize Catholic education and spur future enrollment growth, hope Bishop Richard J. Malone and other diocesan officials.
Nonetheless, the shuttering of school buildings will likely arouse anger and disappointment among Catholic students and parents with deep bonds to their schools, as happened with prior school closings and dozens of parish closures a few years ago. A frenzied search for new academic homes for displaced students, similar to 2007, when the diocese announced 14 school closures, could be set off by the closings.
"A lot of parents are very concerned: Where is my child going to go to school next year?" Kostyniak said.
Decisions this time around will be more strategic and organized, with community and regional schools being created to ensure that a Catholic education will be available for anyone who wants it, according to Catholic officials.
When a study found that area Catholic schools competed fiercely against each other for a rapidly shrinking pool of potential students, the prospect of a restructuring and consolidation of schools has been on the table since 2011. Following the hiring of Sister Carol Cimino as superintendent of Catholic schools last June, the diocese began moving forward on a restructure. This past fall, pastors and principals met for months in one of nine "clusters" to discuss how to reconfigure buildings, share resources and upgrade programs in their respective geographic areas.
Despite the closures, school officials plan to expand and strengthen programs in the remaining schools, including introducing a new curriculum model known as STREAM – emphasizing science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math.
"We are going to do it right," Kostyniak said. "What are we learning in school that's going to make us better citizens down the road? That's what we're about."
Cimino believes that spending fewer resources on maintaining buildings and having more students in fewer schools will allow those schools to add Advanced Placement courses and expand after-school and extracurricular offerings.
This closing of schools in Western New York comes after officials recently said that at the end of the school year, six elementary schools in the Chicago Archdiocese are slated to close with more expected to join the list before the end of the month.