Holy Cross counting on new prep school program to keep it open

Though it prevailed in its appeal to the Archidicese of Philadelphia’s Blue Ribbon Commission, Holy Cross Catholic School is still trying to stay away from a looming chopping block. The school, which could have been merged with Our Mother of Consolidation, was granted a one year stay for the Sep 2012-Jun 2013 academic term. Now comes the tough task of proving that decision has enough merit to extend the school’s future.

Boosting student enrollment is key for the school’s shorter term success. Principal Bryan Werner stated that current attendance is at 140 students, but he would like to raise that number to 170 students next year. Volunteers have been canvassing Mt. Airy and also the Wadsworth neighborhood in hopes of attracting 45 more students to its roster. On Wednesday, Holy Cross, at 144 E. Mt. Airy Ave., will host an Open House from 3:30-7 p.m.

One of the innovative ways the school is hoping to obtain additional enrollment is through its new Sophia for Preparatory Program. “We saw this as an opportunity now to expand and go into a partnership with Inn-Dwelling, which would be the Sophia Program,” Werner stated. The program offers a rigorous academic study to financially challenged gifted students, grades six through eight, which will enable them to pursue high school level preparatory education. Holy Cross School will be the only Catholic school to offer such a program. Founder, Sister Rosemarie Jefferson, has run the Inn-Dwelling after school program since 1997 and said Catholic prep schools exist, but only for those who can afford the hefty tuition.

The Sophia Preparatory Program is part of what helped Holy Cross win its appeal. “We’re looking at long term,” Werner said. He anticipates an enrollment of 20 students next year into the Sophia Program.

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To further its plans for longevity, Holy Cross School is also seeking to create a board of advisors comprised of powerful, well-connected business leaders. The advisors’ role would be to raise money for a million dollar endowment, which could be used as an emergency fund for future building repairs. “We need professional people who know where to go for the funds, how to raise them and then how to keep us on track,” explained Werner. Sister Rosemarie stated that she has approached Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA), Business Leaders Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) and a connection within the Catholic Business Network (CBN) in attempt to find 10-12 members for the Advisory Council to Father James Cox. “We want to work with the business community,” she remarked.

Bottom line, Holy Cross School must prove to the Archdiocese that it is sustainable. “Otherwise, what’s going to happen is the school’s going to close next June (2013) if we don’t make it financially,” stressed Sister Rosemarie, who added that the children who come to the Inn-Dwelling after-school program will end up in low performing public schools.

“We have to show at the end of this school year that we’re making progress,” Werner exclaimed. The success of Holy Cross’ efforts could translate into more funding as well. “We have to show sustainability, and then there’s other money that can come in,” Werner said. Sister Rosemarie noted that there are foundations who have expressed a willingness to help if long-term viability is proven. Werner pointed out that organizations are much more careful about financial contributions in a troubled economy.

While Werner believes increasing enrollment will not be difficult, building an advisory board and raising an endowment presents a tougher challenge. It’s a “Catch 22. It takes money to make money,” he said.

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