In response to protests from parents appealing the closure of their school, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia posted a statement last week on the website of St. Bridget School in East Falls.
Amid cries for transparency and calls for factual basis for the closure, the Archdiocese’s response sought to address the concerns voiced by parents on a point-by-point basis, and reaffirm the finality of the Archdiocese’s decision.
“The appeal from Saint Bridget’s, along with the facts presented were seriously, thoughtfully, and prayerfully considered,” the statement read.
“When weighed in light of the realities of the already regionalized school,” the Archdiocese’s response continued, “the original recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission was upheld.”
As reported by Newsworks, the Archdiocese announced its plans on Jan. 6 for a merger of St. Bridget and Holy Child Regional School in Manayunk – with the latter school being the proposed site of the combined student bodies.
On Jan. 19, St. Bridget’s parents presented a formal appeal to the Archdiocese urging a reconsideration of a Manayunk-based regional school, citing statistics that suggest comparatively favorable conditions at the East Falls location.
The parents were informed on Feb. 17 that their plea would not be accommodated.
In subsequent weeks, two protest rallies were staged by St. Bridget parents and affiliates on the school’s campus in order to bring broader attention to their cause. They vowed to continue their appeal.
However, the statement from the Archdiocese suggests that their efforts may be in vain.
“That decision was final and the appeals process has ended,” it concluded.
The Archdiocese’s statement on the school’s website included evidence used to guide its decision for the East Falls school.
Beginning with background of the extant school in Manayunk – Holy Child Regional – the statement said it formed in 2005 out of the merger of Holy Family, Saint Lucy, and Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish Elementary Schools, with St. John the Baptist and St. Jospahat following the next year.
“As it already successfully served as a regional school in the area, Holy Child was the most logical choice,” the statement continued, adding that, “it seemed to make the most sense to recommend that the children from Saint Bridget’s come to the existing regional school rather than uproot children from five parishes, some of whom had been part of a merger once already.”
St. Bridget parents have challenged Holy Child being labeled a success.
In their original appeal letter, St. Bridget parents referenced what they claim is a fifty percent decrease in Holy Child enrollment since the 2005 merger.
They claim, in a similar time period, a 16 percent increase in enrollment at St. Bridget.
In an email response, the Archdiocese noted that “enrollment is only a portion of the picture.”
Citing numerous factors taken into account by the Blue Ribbon Commission and the review committees, the Archdiocese said, “It would be unfair to single out one factor as all of them contribute to the overall picture.”
“Overall trends and data at all levels were examined,” the Archdiocese added, “including educational programs offered at each school, current and historical enrollment figures, overall finances for the schools and parishes, current and projected capacity, (and) facility improvements that would be needed and overall demographic trends in our diocese.”
Archdiocese is moving forward with merger plans
The web-based statement also stated that the selection of Holy Child as the destination for the new site was a result of upgrades to the school’s facilities, as well as “extensive financial commitments,” which make the building “the best poised in the Manayunk/East Falls area to serve as the new regional school.”
Asked for further details regarding improvements at Holy Child, the Archdiocese reiterated the “extensive financial commitments” thus rendered.
According to the Archdiocese, the merger of the schools at the Holy Child site is already being implemented, and “is progressing in a very encouraging manner,” with enrollment projected at approximately 410 students.
A name has been selected for the newly-merged schools – St. Blaise Regional School. It was suggested by a council of stakeholders from each school, explained the Archdiocese, “to help develop the school’s new identity, including name, colors, mascot, etc.”
St. Blaise was martyred in the year 316, according to the American Catholic website. St. Blaise is the Patron Saint of throat ailments, and is associated with candles and wool combers.
In addition, a principal for the new school has been selected – Susan Canio, current principal at St. Bridget. The Archdiocese said that her appointment “significantly demonstrates the impartiality of the regionalization process.”
Asked to expand upon the meaning of “impartiality” in this context, the Archdiocese indicated that “favoritism was not and would never be shown as a factor in the hiring process.”
Staffing and implementation process
The hiring process will be on the minds of many.
“In cases where a regional school is being formed,” the Archdiocese explained, “the current administration, faculty and staff all lose their positions by virtue of the schools closing at the end of the year.
Current teachers will have the opportunity to interview for positions within the newly-formed regional school, and Michael Patterson, current Principal of Holy Child, “may apply for any open administrative positions among all of the schools that are regionalizing in all counties across the Archdiocese.”
As for the future of the St. Bridget School’s building, the Archdiocese said, “our concern at this time is not the properties but implementation process.”
The Archdiocese explained that elementary school properties are the responsibility of the parishes.
“Future direction for those buildings,” the Archdiocese continued, “will be determined by the pastor, in consultation with his pastoral council and parish finance committee.”
St. Bridget community continues its efforts
The following summary was tendered by the Archdiocese in reply to an inquiry from Newsworks.
“There is much more to the commission’s recommendations than just merging of schools. The moves are part of a broader plan designed to strengthen the remaining schools and enhance the educational programs.”
“While the restructuring may bring short-term pain, the broader plan is expected to result in stronger schools that are better positioned to deliver the high quality education that parents want and students need in order to compete in the 21st-century.”
Despite these intentions, Christina Spino, St. Bridget alumna and member of the St. Bridget School Media Committee, remains skeptical of the viability of St. Blaise Regional School.
“That school is not poised to be a regional school,” she said, emphasizing what she believes is the broader appeal of St. Bridget’s facilities to families.
Spino indicated that St. Bridget parents will continue their efforts to establish and fund a nonprofit, grassroots organization named “The St. Bridget Restoration Fund.”
“We’re responding to the need for East Falls to have a Catholic school,” she said.
For further information on the Archdiocese’s school plans, visit www.faithinthefuture.com.