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Monday, March 24, 2008

Restructuring ahead for two Catholic schools

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— Often, news about Catholic schools involves an underused facility closing down.
This time, however, two schools in Westville are restructuring for the coming school year, a move, which if successful, they hope will double enrollment.
The Rev. Thomas Shepard said St. Brendan’s will be converted to a kindergarten through fourth-grade facility, while St. Aedan’s will adopt a grades five-to-eight middle school and also house the prekindergarten class.
Currently, both are kindergarten-to-grade-eight schools.
Given the shortage of priests, the two parishes were linked administratively several years ago, and making the best decisions now for the geographically close schools was the logical next step.
“This has been a year-and-a-half process,” Shepard said of planning by the separate school boards that run the facilities, plus help from the director of Catholic schools for the Hartford Archdiocese and some national assistance.
“It’s a great opportunity. They are really pooling their best resources,” said Regina Haney of the National Catholic Educational Association.
She said the two school boards were willing to come up with a new governance structure, develop a marketing plan and look for outside funding sources.
“Catholic schools historically have not been good at structuring,” said Haney, who works closely with the education department at Boston College in helping schools replicate successful programs from around the country.
Without planning now, Haney said St. Brendan’s and St. Aedan’s could have died “inch by inch” as enrollment dropped. “There wouldn’t have been time to turn things around. There is hope there now,” Haney said.
Shepard said they will also be looking for corporate partners to help the school and said they already serve an ethnically and religiously diverse student population.
“From my perspective, it is a better use of existing facilities,” Shepard said, while Haney felt a separate building and program organized around middle school children will be a good marketing point. “They like to have their own space,” she said of students in that age group.
There are 185 students at St. Aedan’s and 161 at St. Brendan’s, according to Shepard.
Haney is hopeful the restructuring will strengthen both facilities and keep them stable and said she is putting her faith in Shepard to pull it off.
“I’m impressed with Father Shepard, how he thinks, how he works with the people,” Haney said. Perhaps most importantly, “he took advice. Some pastors are threatened by the laity and the school board. He is a collaborator,” she said.
The other surviving Catholic schools in New Haven are St. Francis, St. Rose of Lima and St. Bernadette’s. St. Martin de Porres Academy, a Jesuit model, called a Nativity school, aimed at poor children, has its middle school at the former Sacred Heart/St. Peter’s school in the Hill.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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