Compromise, teamwork and respect. That’s what it took for four struggling parish schools to come together and successfully form a thriving regional school.
“We opened one year ago September,” said John Mundy, principal of Levittown’s Holy Family Regional School formed though the consolidation of Queen of the Universe, Immaculate Conception, St. Frances Cabrini and St. Joseph the Worker schools. “We retained about 80 percent of the students,” he estimated. “We opened with 525 students and now we are at 480.” The school, which is located in the former Queen of the Universe School, has a capacity of about 540, and Mundy estimates they have an opportunity to retain about 500 students for the foreseeable future.
During the planning stages, with the pastors as leaders, there were between 15 and 20 representatives from each parish.
“There was open communication with the parents at all times,” Mundy said. “Our pastors led the way, and others followed their lead. Working together was the key. The people understood this was inevitable and the only alternative if we were to continue to provide a good Catholic education. One school, one family is our motto.”
Careful planning went into the new school, which at this point has two classrooms for each grade as well as an additional five for K and Pre-K, for a total of 21. While the former schools were mostly limited to physical education and computer labs for amenities, Holy Family Regional also has music, art, honors math, Spanish and a library. Each class also has a large Smart Board. The somewhat larger but still manageable classes lead to more socialization, Mundy believes.
As for funding, each parish contributes $125,000 annually; tuition this year is $3,000 ($3,700 for nonparticipating families) and is scheduled to rise just $100 next year.
Although regionalization to assigned schools is the practice after elementary school consolidation, the high schools are quite different because students are not assigned to high schools. They and their families may choose to attend any the of the high schools.
When Philadelphia’s Northeast Catholic High School and Cardi-nal Dougherty High closed in June 2010, the freshmen, sophomores and juniors scattered to various high schools. Archbishop Ryan High School received 95 students from the two schools, some of whom graduated last year, but almost all of the others made the adjustment and will graduate from Ryan this year or next.
“I was heartbroken to have my school taken away so easily,” said junior Kelly Kennedy who started high school at Dougherty. A member of St. William Parish, she had chosen Dougherty because it was the closest, although Ryan would have been a second choice.
At her new school, “I was a little unwilling to dig right in,” she said, “but after I opened up, everyone was nice. I still have a few friends from Dougherty, but I’ve developed long-lasting relationships here.”
Now at Ryan, she is a school ambassador, National Honor Society member and a mathlete in the prestigious program run by Immaculate Heart Sister Alice Hess. “There are a lot of opportunities for clubs and sports here,” she said.
Brittany DeLeon, a senior from St. Martin of Tours Parish, still misses Dougherty. “I keep in touch with the teachers and students,” she said. “When I heard the school was closing, I thought it was a joke until I saw the teachers in the hall crying.”
For most of her junior year the transition was hard. “I just wanted to go to school and get it done with,” DeLeon said. “Then I made the adjustment, and by my senior year I was excited to come back; it’s a good fit.”
Antonella Filipuzzi, a junior from St. Martin of Tours Parish, remembers having no emotion when it was announced Dougherty was closing. “I was in shock,” she said, “I still miss it so much.”
She chose to continue her high schooling at Ryan because “it has a good reputation. Now I am so happy here, I play rugby and I’ve applied for the National Honor Society. I’m happy I chose Ryan.”
Bruce Phares, who is also a Ryan junior out of All Saints Parish, began his high school career at Northeast Catholic, following in the footsteps of a long line of cousins. From the time he was little it was his dream to play football for North.
“For me it was a big shock when we heard North was closing,” he said.
There was a visitation day at Ryan, and he liked how everyone seemed to be welcoming, and he talked to the football coach about joining the program. What sealed the deal was when one of his best buddies also picked Ryan.
Still there was an adjustment. “I wasn’t prepared for the size of the school; I got lost the first day,” he said.
Especially in that first year the North guys tended to stick together and still do, he said, but their circle of friends has expanded to include many others who never went to school at Erie and Torresdale.
“In my opinion we all made a good adjustment,” Phares said. And yes, he is on the football team — offensive tackle.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.