Posted in Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership

School Courtship: Hoping to Beat the Odds With Careful Planning

When Catholic schools close or consolidate, most everyone ends up in public schools, no matter how careful the planning.

We have a unique situation, though, where the ones who wanted to give up already gave up last year, and those who remain would really rather stay together, if they could.  We are also within a mile of two other Catholic schools with a third slightly further away than that.

So, we’re courting the closest, our first “daughter” parish, the second oldest school in town.

On paper, this is a good arranged marriage: fact one, they need us.  They need our kids and our money, such as it might be, because they are the next to go, on paper, if they can’t right themselves financially.  Unlike us, however, they have more reserves since families were wealthier when they began and they have had the time to grow and nurture that investment.  They have the time that we didn’t.  We have an interesting dowry, too, with a whole lot of books that are new, and a nice endowment of our own for scholarships.  And a parish who will be feeling guilty soon about how they let this closure happen, so I’m hoping to negotiate for more scholarships besides.  We think, but are still investigating, that a merger means they get credit for our Title I kids, and all of my kids were Title I eligible so they will get increased Title I services, if this is the case.

Beyond that, they are the most liberal, educationally-speaking.  We were caught in the 70’s, and the school that “everyone will say” we should join is lagging behind by about two decades.  They have already failed one of our students (she will never go back there) and their unsportsmanlike behavior and bullying have gone unchecked; I have family that has just said, well, that’s the mean class…as if that’s okay.  Meanwhile, our intended school has historically been more progressive, educationally, so it is arguably the best match philosophically.  They have had fidget toys in the classroom for nearly a decade and used to use a popular program called “the Daily 5” (maybe I’ll find they still are!) which encourages choice and independence in educational decisions, though with more scaffolding than we’ve managed to build in, so it tends to be easier for parents to understand.  I believe they use the same math books, or have in the recent past.

Then there’s the aesthetics.  Their school was actually built before our current building, but has many of the same features: big rooms, high ceilings, natural light, and they boast a bigger, but traditionally set-up church, with real aisles and stained glass instead of what I jokingly call “theatre in the round.”

Finally, because there’s no guarantee our parish won’t close next, they are the most likely to be ready to take on Hispanic ministry, should the parish merger ever occur because they are more progressive socially and have a native speaker of Spanish on payroll to teach Spanish.  We are hoping that, if this works out, we could encourage these parishes to join, if they must.  They are both downtown, after all.  Alternatively, if all goes well, we believe they would be better able to help guide what happens to our old building if it should be repurposed as a school again in the future because they have an older building as well and will have connections who understand managing these beauties.

So, after talking to their principal, we’re beginning the courtship this week.  It’s Catholic Schools Week, the Catholic school equivalent of homecoming, and they are having a dance at school, with littles and bigs together.  My middle schooler will love being able to stand off to the corner and talk to his friends (he has two there now) instead of being in the office with the adults.  My tiny kids will love dancing with friends their own size.  And their kids will LOVE that we might be bringing them more kids in the very age range they have lower numbers.

And he’s invited the parents and wants to come to us to meet with them and talk, too.

He’s also interested in my teacher, if he has an opening.  Multi-age teaching experience, much less love for it, is hard to find in a teacher.  She is eager to make a good impression, because she wants to stay in town with Catholic education.

So we will begin dating, and see if we will marry.

One of my parents, the one who already was thinking she’d be pulling her child out at the end of the year, is thrilled by this, and wants us to end the year AT this school.  She wanted more kids around, and this will solve her concerns.  Another was also considering moving her child at middle school because of numbers as well.  This would increase the numbers for them, too.

On paper, it’s the perfect match.

We’re praying this courtship turns into love and marriage to follow, because if I can keep these kids (and hopefully their teacher, too!) together and beat the odds, that will still be a very big win.

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