Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mixed Reaction to Plan for Catholic Schools

The consolidation of Catholic schools in Dorchester is meeting with mixed reactions among elected officials. Some view the closing of two schools and the infusion of as much as $60 million as the best hope for survival of Catholic education in Dorchester and Mattapan. But the schools that are closing—St. Peter’s (in photo) in Meetinghouse Hill, and St. Kevin’s near Uphams Corner—serve Dorchester’s most distressed neighborhoods.

It’s possible students from these neighborhoods will be served by the remaining Catholic schools. There are also plans to help the area near St. Peter’s School with new money for an after school program and a teen center. But the reaction Friday from area’s state representative, Marie St. Fleur, was negative.

“I’m really disturbed about the action of the Archdiocese today, where it closed two schools that are the heart of the immigrant community—a struggling immigrant community,” said St. Fleur, in a phone message to Neighborhood Network News. “It’s left me with a huge question,” she said, “about where was Christ in their decision Thursday.”

There was also a statement on the consolidation (“2010 Initiative”) Friday from State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry. She represents the Lower Mills and Cedar Grove neighborhoods, though she and St. Fleur are both alumnae of a Catholic high school that closed, Msgr. Ryan. Dorcena Forry also attended St. Kevin’s. In her statement, she called the consolidation “a difficult, but necessary undertaking that is critically important to the education network in our city's neighborhoods.”

There’s total agreement that Catholic schools in Dorchester and Mattapan have to adjust to changes in population. For St. Fleur, that would have meant keeping schools open where she believed there was the most population growth. But observers say the changes in population—and in the engagement between church and community—make the old parish school model obsolete, especially for financial support. Where schools are closing, some families will give up convenience, but the end of parish boundaries for enrollment could also mean more choices. The five surviving schools (not including St. Brendan’s, which will remain independent) will have a joint administration, and plans call for changes in curriculum. There will also be renovations of the school buildings, which are all at least 50 years old.

“It is important to keep in mind that Dorchester has already watched as four other parish schools, including my alma mater M.R.M., closed one-by-one over the last seven years,” said Dorcena Forry. “I believe that, unless a concerted effort of the kind presented by the 2010 Initiative is earnestly advanced, several more schools in our community would inevitably suffer a similar fate.”

After the consolidation plan was announced, Mayor Menino invited students affected by the consolidation to apply to the Boston Public Schools. Officials will convey that invitation in a letter to 300 students at the two K-8 schools that are closing. According to the city, almost 400 students who were in a Catholic school last year now attend the Boston Public Schools, not including students in the three exam schools.

Note: special meetings to let families affected by the consolidation learn about options in the Boston Public Schools will take place Wednesday, December 5, 6-7;30 p.m., at the Codman Square Health Center, 637 Washington St., Dorchester; and Thursday, December 6, 6-7:30 p.m., at the Lower Mills Branch Library, 27 Richmond St., Dorchester.