By Vince LaBarbera
Earlier this summer the Catholic Schools Office formed a Mishawaka Catholic Schools Committee to present a plan to the Diocese of Fort Wayne -South Bend before December of this year, regarding the reorganization of three Catholic elementary schools in downtown Mishawaka; namely, St. Bavo, St. Joseph and St. Monica.
“Our objective is to develop a plan for the schools that will meet three criteria,” said Dr. Mark Myers, superintendent. The goals are:
• A strong and present Catholic identity
• Excellent academic programs with new course offerings
• Affordable tuition with long-term financial stability
Dr. Myers met with each of the three school boards last winter, listening to see how the Schools Office might assist the communities to develop the plan requested by the diocese. “It became clear early in our discussions with the pastors and (school) board members that changes are needed to ensure a viable and stable future for the Catholic education of our children,” he related.
“The data presented show clearly that the three Mishawaka schools are facing difficult times in the very near future if no changes are made,” Dr. Myers continued.
“The parishes are experiencing more funerals than baptisms, and teacher salaries will be increased significantly over the next three years while revenues from enrollment will continue to diminish for each individual school,” he reported. “Maintaining a comprehensive curriculum for middle-school students is nearly impossible given the shrinking numbers of students enrolled. The projected enrollment for the next decade is not promising for any school without some drastic changes. Public schools in the area are competing for enrollment and offering significant discounts to attract families.”
Given these facts, the three boards agreed to form a committee with three representatives from each parish. Other members include Carl Loesch, principal of Marian High School; Holy Cross Father Anthony Szakaly; and Dr. Myers. The committee met twice last June and once in July, creating a template for budgeting purposes.
“Our three Mishawaka Catholic communities need to take this opportunity to acquire financial stability and offer a more comprehensive academic program,” Dr. Myers said in a letter to Mishawaka families involved. In addition, minutes and meeting updates are being posted on the diocesan Web site at www.diocesefwsb.org. (Please go to “Catholic Schools” and “Catholic Schools Office.” Click on “Mishawaka Updates” on the right).
On Monday, Aug. 30, a meeting will be held with all Mishawaka Catholic parents, teachers, students and parishioners from 7-9 p.m. in the Bishop Crowley Activity Center at Marian High School, 1311 S. Logan St., Mishawaka. A proposal will be presented for the future of the Mishawaka schools followed by questions and comments.
“Enrollment declines and increased parish subsidies for each school have made the present options financially inimitable,” Dr. Myers wrote. “Therefore, we need to adopt a Mishawaka school consolidation plan to be implemented for the 2011-2012 academic year. Carl Loesch has agreed to work closely with us to help ensure the middle school proposal is compatible with the Marian High School curriculum. Some exciting ideas have been offered with regard to a stronger middle school. As we investigate these ideas, we are mindful there are many characteristics of the three schools that serve the families and communities effectively and well.
“The Catholic schools in Mishawaka have a long history of excellence built upon the faith of many families who sacrificed to build these historic parishes and schools. The continued commitment of these parish communities have been evident throughout our discussions,” Principal Loesch said in an e-mail to Today’s Catholic.
“Marian High School will support and work with the St. Monica, St. Bavo and St. Joseph communities to plan for a vibrant Catholic elementary system in Mishawaka,” he added. “We look forward to working closely with them especially in areas such as languages, performing arts, and math to make for a seamless k-12 system in Mishawaka. I thank Dr. Myers, Father Terry Fisher, Father Barry England, and Father Jeff Largent, and all of the committee members for their leadership and commitment to Catholic education.”
“We expect to preserve the practices and strategies that yield success for students in any proposal submitted, “Dr. Myers continued. He said members of the committee are open to suggestions. He also asked the families to:
• Support the committee members as they do this important work
• Review the minutes of the meetings and plan to attend the open forum on August 30
• Pray for committee members and that Catholic education programs for Mishawaka children can be sustained
“Presently, Mishawaka Catholic children from each school know each other quite well,” Dr. Myers observed, adding that they participate in shared sports programs. “If we take this initiative to complete important and transparent work now, we have the opportunity to build on our Catholic school excellence and build on a plan for the Mishawaka Catholic community to offer a first-rate Catholic education for decades,” he concluded.
Tim Johnson contributed to this story.
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