St. Gabriel’s and St. Margaret’s Schools safe in Catholic school cutdback

By Brendan McHugh

With the public education system going through its own turmoil, problems in the Catholic schools are quieter but just as dire now that the Archdiocese of New York has proposed closing 31 elementary schools and one high school in a massive reconfiguration program.

Of the 32 schools, six are in The Bronx, including the one high school, Saint Pius V Girls’ High School. The five elementary schools are Saint Augustine, Saint John Vianney, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Dominic and Saint Anthony-Saint Frances.

The reconfiguration committee, charged with evaluating the long-term viability of parish and archdiocesan schools in the Archdiocese of New York, has made its preliminary recommendations as to which Catholic schools should no longer receive significant financial subsidies from the Archdiocese. The committee was created as part of the strategies outlined in Pathways to Excellence, a plan to ensure a vibrant future for the Catholic school system. The plan was published in October.

Pathways to Excellence outlines a three-year strategy to re-envision the Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of New York. The program analyzes classroom efficiency, tackles declining enrollment and reaches out to Latino communities, all of which helped the reconfiguration committee in their decisions.

“Declining enrollment and rising tuition are key challenges facing those schools that have been identified as at-risk. These under-enrolled schools require significant financial support from the archdiocese, which cannot be sustained indefinitely. We need to allocate our resources where they can do the most good and support schools that can sustain themselves over time,” Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools, said in a statement from the Archdiocese.

When looking at which schools to close, the committee considered many factors, including enrollment trends, financial subsidies, infrastructure, test scores, future demographics and ability of students to attend a nearby school.

The at-risk schools will make their case to the reconfiguration committee in January on why they should stay open and what they will do to improve. But according to Fran Davies, superintendent for communications, many of the problems cannot be fixed simply by merging multiple at-risk schools.

“I think the schools have to look at a long-term viability plan. Not just short-term on how to cobble together,” Davis said. She said the most important variables a school needs to address are how they can become fully enrolled and how they will meet their financial obligations at the local level.

“Every school community is well aware of their own situations,” Davies said. “There is a sadness, obviously, having that designation, but it shouldn’t be a shock.”

The Archdiocese has been meeting with parents, faculty and staff of the schools over the past several months to help form the list of 32, and as a result they made the school community aware of their situation before this announcement.

Any child displaced by the closing of a school is guaranteed a place at another school in the Archdiocese.

Saint Gabriel’s—not an at-risk school—will welcome students displaced from their current school. “Our school has room to accept new students, and we would be delighted to welcome new families to the Saint Gabriel School community,” Principal Deborah Pitula said.

The archdiocese, which spends about $15 million on subsidies for its 216 grade schools, has discarded dozens of schools in the past 20 years. But the current proposed round of closings would be the single largest in its history.

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