Monday, January 13, 2014

Archdiocese to close 6 schools at end of year’re on a mission from God.

Adopting that mantra, Our Lady of Victory Catholic School has about a week to raise money and come up with a plan to restructure its budget — $400,000 deficit and all — or it may have to shut its doors, said the school’s principal Jennifer Hodge. 

“As I told the parents . . . they are my second family, and I’m not giving up on my family,” said Hodge, a self proclaimed fighter. “We are going to work together to create a plan to sustain us for the next 100 years.”

The Portage Park school is just one of the elementary schools the Archdiocese of Chicago plans to close at the end of the school year. 

Archdiocesan officials have not publicly released the names of the schools. 

Instead, officials are meeting with parents and staff at the schools to break the news. 

On Thursday, the archdiocese announced that at least six schools that did not meet the archdiocese’s “criteria for sustainability and growth potential” will close at the end of the school year.

“The families of the 775 children affected by the closures will be encouraged to transfer their children to nearby Catholic schools and offered tuition discounts to offset any inconvenience,” the archdiocese said in an written statement.

On Monday in Mundelein, Santa Maria del Popolo School learned it is among the schools on the chopping block.

On Wednesday, it was Our Lady of Victory.

The archdiocese’s Strategic Plan for Catholic Schools for 2013 through 2016 noted the financial challenges facing parish-based elementary schools, which traditionally have relied on tuition and parish subsidies — up to 20 percent of the school budget — to cover the cost of educating students. 

The financial stresses of declining enrollment and increased expenses have made many schools more dependent on limited archdiocesan subsidies, a trend the plan noted is not sustainable.

“We are committed to providing a high-quality educational and faith formation experience to every child in our schools,” said Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of Archdiocese of Chicago schools. 

“By focusing our resources on schools that are well positioned to attract an optimum enrollment level and equipped to meet the needs of a modern curriculum we can help ensure this network will remain sustainable over the long term.”

But the closure of Our Lady of Victory, a “neighborhood school” would be “devastating,” said dad Scott Tompkins as he waited to pick up his 9-year-old son, Rory.

Parents touted the small class sizes, the personalized attention and the strong bond students feel with teachers. 

The hundred-year-old school is a place generations of families have made their own. 

Among them is Carole Barrett, who graduated in 1961 and now waits for her granddaughter after school.

“Everybody gets involved” said Barrett, 65. “It’s a good place to be.”

That’s how 5-year-old Abby Kupka feels. She clung to her grandmother, Jan, and bawled after learning Our Lady of Victory may close.

“I love this place,” the little girl cried.

Meanwhile, the school’s principal is staying optimistic and hopes that restructuring the budget, which could include raising tuition and reducing staff, could help save the school, which currently has 170 students.

“There’s a lot of options out there,” Hodge said. “We just have to find the best possible solution.”

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