Faculty and parents of a 120-year-old Catholic school are hoping it can remain in place, but are bracing themselves for what is scheduled to be its last day.
is set to close its doors after graduating its latest class of eighth graders and ending its school year today. Founded in 1892, the school is one of 20 schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich and serves kindergarten through eighth grade.
Principal Anne Tortora said the school has been running a deficit of at least $250,000 and received financial support from the diocese as well as the parish of the . She said the chancery and diocese made the decision in collaboration with the superintendent of schools based on the school’s ability to sustain itself. The diocese also decided to close the 105-year-old St. Joseph School in Rockville.
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“Although it grieves us very much, Catholic schools are difficult to keep open,” said Tortora.
The school had 105 students this year, and 121 were signed up to attend in the 2012-2013 school year. There are 20 employees at the school, including part-time teachers, tutors, a social worker, and office staff.
Sadness and disbelief
Shannon Lougee, who is completing her sixth year as a kindergarten teacher, said her husband was a third generation student of the school, following his father and grandfather.
“I’m not afraid to admit I cried,” said Lougee. “I love this school, and I’m very sad to see it close.”
Lougee said she was dismayed to see a 120-year history come to an end and was worried for the children. She also said finding a new job will be a challenging task. She has applied to different teaching positions, but received a letter from one district informing her that 700 people applied for an opening.
Tortora said she was “heartbroken” upon hearing the decision. She said several alumni have called asking to see the school one last time. Today, each class will contribute to a time capsule to be buried in the courtyard. The last graduation will take place at 6 p.m., and Tortora said she hopes for a good turnout of alumni.
“It’ll be great to show the kids that they’re really part of a lineage,” she said.
Tortora said the school has quadrupled its co-curricular activities and seen success in the programs, including a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program and . The latter began this year with the kindergarten class and was to follow those students to expand to a new grade each year.
“It’s been a challenge to come in every day and be as upbeat as we can be,” she said.
Challenges for parents
Part of the financial difficulties stem from the way in which the tuition is based. The cost for a year at St. Mary Star of the Sea School is $2,600 for parishioners and $3,275 for non-parishioners. However, the majority of the students receive tuition assistance.
The closure has left some families uncertain what to do for the next year, as the lotteries for magnet schools have already closed. The majority of the students are from New London, but others come from Groton, Ledyard, Norwich, and Waterford.
“There’s a significant number of our families who don’t know where their children will be next year,” said Tortora. “They know they’ll be in New London, but they’re not sure where.”
Lougee said parents have experienced difficulties due to the timing of the decision. She said parents have told her that other Catholic schools are too expensive, do not have room for the upcoming school year, or are located out of the district’s bus service.
“I think we were told way too late in the game to do anything about it,” she said.
Vanesa Cruz, whose nine-year-old son is completing third grade, said she also wished she had more notice in order to better prepare for the closing.
“I was upset, I was crying,” she said. “Why didn’t they say it before?”
Hopes for the future
Tortora said she plans to dedicate her time to research how to prevent other urban Catholic schools from closing, saying it is becoming a widespread problem. She said she hopes the school building can still be used for educational purposes. Although the school is preparing to close, Tortora said it could resume classes if it receives a major financial gift or if other action is taken.
“We’re all praying for a miracle,” she said.
Cruz said she has been taking college courses, but it putting her education on hold to help her son. She is looking to enroll him in another local Catholic school, but is also working with parents on possible ways to retain the St. Mary Star of the Sea School. She said an emergency meeting took place on May 22, and one idea proposed keeping the school open for grades five through eight only.
“I want the school open, even if my son doesn’t come here for fourth grade,” she said.