Change - it has become the mantra of a new President and millions of Americans ready to embrace new ideas and different ways of doing things in the face of tough economic challenges.
Even before the 2008 Presidential election campaign kicked off, Cardinal Stritch High School President Fr. David Reinhart was pondering the idea that changes may be necessary to preserve the future of Catholic education in the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha deanery.
He had watched enrollment go down at the schools, which included Toledo Sacred Heart, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Jerome in Walbridge and Cardinal Stritch High School.
“We were seeing schools in Toledo and throughout the Midwest disappearing, due, I think to a combination of factors, including demographics, the economy, some religious apathy and stronger suburban public schools,” Fr. Reinhart said.
In the spring of 2007, he took his concerns to the pastors in the deanery, including those parishes without schools - Bono Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Oregon St. Ignatius, Toledo Good Shepherd, Toledo St. Michael and Toledo St. Stephen.
“The idea of change is scary, but the trend was clear. These men were wise enough to know they were not immune to facing the same realities, even if they were on relatively good footing at the time,” Fr. Reinhart said.
A committee of community members, chosen for their expertise and commitment to Catholic education, was formed to look at how to move forward.
“We agreed to consider all sorts of educational models. Everything was fair - we were not going to be afraid of anything,” Fr. Reinhart said.
The committee met every Sunday for nearly nine months. “Ultimately the recommendation was to form a board with authority and with representation,” he said. “And we needed the bishop to bless it so that it could have actual governing powers.”
The governance board, comprised of the pastors and parish representatives, would oversee what would eventually become known as the Kateri Catholic School System.
The board set a mission - to create a sustainable school system offering world-class Catholic education, with each student achieving at his or her highest academic level. Over the next months, board members considered various educational models. Town hall meetings were held to gather the opinions of parents and members of the community. Prayer was also a key component in the decision-making process, Fr. Reinhart said. “From the outset, we said we were going to do this according to God’s will. “It’s God’s school,” he said. “I firmly believe he wants it to exist - maybe differently.”
A long-range vision
“Ultimately we decided to take to the community a long-range vision that said K-12 education would be provided on one campus, which we felt had both cost and educational advantages,” Fr. Reinhart said.
The plan was announced to a crowd of more than 200 concerned parents, educators, school staff members and students at a meeting at Cardinal Stritch Dec. 2.
Phase one calls for Sacred Heart campus to close at the end of this school year. Students in grades pre-kindergarten through five will attend Kateri Catholic Academy either at the Walbridge Campus (formerly St. Jerome School) or the Toledo Campus (formerly St. Thomas Aquinas). Parents whose children attended Sacred Heart have the option of choosing which campus their children would attend.
Students in grades six through eight will attend middle school at the Kateri Catholic Academy – Oregon Campus, which will be housed in a designated wing at Cardinal Stritch. Cardinal Stritch High School will retain its name. Staff members from the four existing campuses were notified last month about the changes, which will eliminate about 20 full-time equivalent positions. Fr. Reinhart said teachers had the opportunity to reapply and interview for positions that have more than one candidate. The plan also calls for a new academic curriculum.
“By combining resources in fewer buildings, students will have access to additional learning opportunities such as advanced classes and extra-curricular programs,” Fr. Reinhart said.
Fr. Reinhart said the reconfiguration is expected to save the Kateri Catholic School System $1 million in the first year.
Though plans call for the elementary students to eventually move to the Oregon campus, the time frame is still being looked at, Fr. Reinhart said.
“What we have presented is the fastest possible progression,” he said. Feasibility studies to develop a plan for the future will be conducted during the 2009-2010 school year.
Open houses will be held at the Walbridge Campus March 15, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; at the Toledo Campus March 15, noon to 3 p.m. and at the Kateri Catholic Academy Oregon Campus March 22, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
“Catholic schools remain a great way to pass on the faith, a great environment for young people to learn and grow in,” Fr. Reinhart said. “I’m very excited about our future.”
For more information about the Kateri Catholic School System, visit www.katerischools.org.