Two schools closing, four merging into two

Thursday, January 30, 2020 - Updated: 2:36 pm

Pittsburgh Catholic Staff Report

As part of a strategic regionalization of Catholic elementary schools in the diocese, two schools will close at the end of the 2019-20 academic year and four others will merge into two campuses.

Bishop David Zubik made the decisions based on recommendations from regional school leaders. Declining enrollment and rising school and parish debt were two key factors.

In the Pittsburgh-East region, St. Maria Goretti School in the city’s Bloomfield neighborhood and East Catholic School in Forest Hills will close.

In the South region, St. Anne School in Castle Shannon, St. Bernard School in Mount Lebanon, Our Lady of Grace School in Scott Township and St. Thomas More School in Bethel Park will come together in 2020-21 in one unified program with preschool through eighth grade sites at St. Bernard and St. Thomas More.

In his Jan. 24 announcement, Bishop Zubik acknowledged the sadness that comes with any closure or merger, and praised the efforts of school leaders, parents and the parish communities supporting the schools.

“As hard as it is to lose a beloved school, these steps will help Catholic education remain affordable, accessible and sustainable for a new generation,” he said. “Every student will continue to have a place in one of our Catholic schools.”

The changes are part of a broader effort to strengthen Catholic schools for the long term in the diocese through regional governance, which is seeing success nationwide. Launched locally in 2017, regionalization has stabilized enrollment and finances in the North Hills region (see accompanying article).

The effort is designed to continue to provide spiritually vibrant, academically excellent and financially stable Catholic elementary schools that families can afford.

In the new model, a governing board of pastors and lay leaders provides expertise and oversight to all schools within a region, supported by a regional administrator. Every parish and grouping is represented, whether or not there is a school on its property, allowing each to have a voice and be invested in the mission of Catholic schools.

The South Regional Catholic Elementary Schools Advisory Board was engaged in careful study and candid assessment of the schools in the region in developing recommendations based on demographic data and student enrollment trends.

The board will help principals, teachers and families bring the best features of each of the four current schools into the new school, which will be receiving a new name.

“We are especially eager to sustain support for children of special needs or from low-income or immigrant households,” said Father David Poecking, a member of the South board.

“We know these decisions are difficult for our parents and faculty, but we are working strategically to create strong, viable, faith-filled and academically excellent schools in our region for the long term,” said Father Kris Stubna, chairman of the Pittsburgh-East board. “We will be working with every family to be sure that all of our children can find a place in another Catholic school.”

“The regional boards are focusing on critical objectives in ensuring the success of Catholic schools,” said Anna Torrance, diocesan secretary for Catholic education and evangelization. “Among the most bold and creative strategies is ensuring that our schools are geographically accessible and affordable, so that they are fully enrolled and healthy schools.

“This new direction will sustain the mission of our schools,” she said. “The emphasis is to not only preserve but advance Catholic education throughout the diocese.”

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