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Families Rally in Support of Catholic School Education

Six Long Island Schools Slated to Close June 2012

On Saturday, Jan. 21 families and friends of Catholic schools across Long Island braved the freezing temperatures and icy conditions to rally in protest of the closings announced by the Diocese of Rockville Centre on Dec. 6. Families not only wanted to voice their opposition to the closings scheduled for the end of this school year, but rallied in support of Catholic school education in general. They pleaded for Bishop William Murphy and all Catholics in the Diocese to hear their concerns and understand that despite the threat of their schools closing, they do value and support the Catholic elementary school education.

Most of the rally crowd came from the six schools stated to close, along with St. Agnes parishioners who came out to show their support.

In the original school-closing announcement Bishop Murphy said, “While these choices have not been easy and closing schools is one of the most painful parts of my ministry, I want to assure the parents and children that they are uppermost in my mind.”

The six schools scheduled to close at the end of June 2012 are: Farmingdale: Saint John Baptist de La Salle Regional School, Franklin Square: Saint Catherine of Sienna School, Hicksville: Saint Ignatius Loyola School, North Merrick: Sacred Heart School, Lindenhurst: Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, and Sayville: Prince of Peace Regional School.

In the Dec. 6 statement released with the school closing announcement, the area Catholic schools superintendent said, “Given the changing demographics and the economic climate on Long Island we, like many public school districts, must face the harsh reality that we no longer need as many school buildings as in the past,” said Sister Joanne Callahan, OSU, Superintendent of Schools, Diocese of Rockville Centre. “Our actions today are not just about buildings, but about our ongoing commitment to providing a strong, vibrant, wholesome education to the children of this Diocese.”

The Diocese continues to operate 43 parish and regional Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

In the past decade, overall K-8 enrollment in both Nassau and Suffolk public schools and Diocesan elementary schools has steadily decreased. More specifically, K-8 enrollment in Diocesan elementary schools has dropped 34 percent in the last ten years.

The decision to close schools is the result of a thorough analysis of the viability of each of the parish and regional schools in the Diocese as part of the implementation process of the Strategic Plan for Catholic Elementary Schools. The Advisory Committee completed an evaluation of the ability of each school to provide and sustain into the foreseeable future, a quality Catholic education program. This study included an extensive analysis of enrollment and school-age demographic trends, the financial position of the schools and parishes, and a review of the facilities, technology and programs offered.

As of September 2012, the Diocese will have 47 Catholic elementary schools (43 parish or regional and 4 private).

In one section of Nassau County and one in Suffolk County, pastors have been asked to work together with school and diocesan leadership to collaborate in strengthening the schools involved so that there will be Catholic schools in the future in both areas. The following schools will form strategic alliances: Oyster Bay: Saint Dominic School and Syosset: Saint Edward the Confessor School; Center Moriches: Our Lady Queen of Apostles Regional School, Cutchogue: Our Lady of Mercy Regional School, and Riverhead: Saint Isidore School.

The Advisory Committee worked with the Diocesan Education Department for a year-and-a-half to develop and implement the Strategic Plan. The Advisory Committee, which includes members of the Elementary Education Commission, the Tomorrow’s Hope Foundation, Diocesan administration and pastor representatives, examined the challenges and opportunities facing elementary schools in the Diocese, created measurable and attainable goals, and provided strategies to achieve success.

“The Bishop’s Advisory Committee takes seriously its charge to develop and implement a comprehensive strategic plan to support the long-term sustainability, growth and excellence of Catholic elementary schools on Long Island and recognizes the gravity of these decisions,” said Brian Shea, chair of the Bishop’s Advisory Committee for Catholic Education. “Despite the difficult, but necessary, transition of the coming months, we have developed and have begun to execute a strategic plan that gives us confidence in our ability to achieve the committee’s mission in the future. Despite the short term challenges, we are recommitting and taking action to help ensure the availability of quality Catholic education on Long Island in the future.”

One parent from Farmingdale’s Saint John Baptist de La Salle Regional School told Anton Newspapers that the families who are affected by these school closings have joined together to come up with solutions to present to the Diocese to reverse the decision to close the schools. She said, “We are focusing our strategy to presenting a new, viable plan to the Diocese to reopen our school as a Catholic Academy School; we are confident that once we have completed our plan development, Bishop Murphy will meet with us to review and approve our plan to maintain Catholic elementary school in our community.” She acknowledged that the families do understand that the “decision Bishop Murphy had to make must have been difficult.”

Additional information on the Strategic Plan and the reorganization of schools can be found at www.drvc.org.

Christy Hinko contributed to this article.