Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Oct
  • 24

Two Webster schools to form new academy in 2016

Posted By October 24, 2014 | 4:46 pm | Featured Article #1
St. Louis School, Webster
St. Louis School, Webster

By Tanya Connor

St. Anne and St. Louis Elementary Schools in Webster are to combine in the fall of 2016 to form All Saints Academy, Bishop McManus announced in Oct. 20 letters to the pastors.
Letters were sent home with the students last Friday and the information was shared with parishioners on the weekend.
Responses have been primarily positive, according to leaders from St. Anne’s.
Father Adam Reid, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, which runs St. Anne’s School, included the bishop’s letter in the parish bulletin. He said he made himself available after Masses and at an event at the school for comments or questions.
“There was some feedback from parishioners exiting the church,” he said. “Almost exclusively, it was positive.” He said people realized the new school could offer additional programs and they said they were very comfortable with these two communities working more closely together.
“In the minds of people I spoke with, it seemed almost a natural fit,” he said.
At the school, parents’ response was positive, Father Reid said, and he sensed relief that the search for a viable vision was completed.
“I was very pleased with the feedback people gave, and it seemed to be a further affirmation that the direction we are moving in is in line with God’s wishes,” he said.
Undoubtably people have questions about how this vision will crystalize, he said, “but it appears there is an openness to seeing what I believe is the great potential embedded in this new model.”
He said he is convinced that when people start to understand what this could offer, it will generate excitement.
Father Reid credited Father William F. Sanders, St. Louis’ pastor, with the idea for the name All Saints Academy.
“He envisioned that that name could hint at the rich heritage of the two schools, but also denote that something altogether new is growing” from their long histories, he said. He said combining the present names might have inhibited thoughts that the new school can offer more than what the two offer now.
“In my opinion the name suggests how advantageous it will be to fervently seek the intercession of the two saints that have stood so long as heavenly advocates for these two schools,” he said.
Delma L. Josephson, superintendent of schools, said it is anticipated that All Saints Academy will serve at least pre-kindergarten 3 through grade 8, as both schools do now. Both campuses will be used, she said.
She said she and William J. Mulford, associate superintendent, met with the pastors Oct. 23 to begin discussing a governance model for use of the four buildings (each school has two) and who will be responsible for them, among other things. The pastors will be part of this, and the bishop wants strong parish connections, she said. But it will not be a parish school; it will be separately incorporated. She said there will be a search for someone to head it, and that she couldnÕt say what the current principals will choose to do.
When The Catholic Free Press invited Father Sanders to comment about the change Saturday, he said he and his people needed time to assimilate the news and he would refer questions to the bishop’s office and the school department. Tuesday St. Louis’ principal, Anthony Luzzetti, referred questions to Father Sanders, who he said is their spokesman.
St. Joseph Elementary is the other parish school in Webster. It is at 47 Whitcomb St., between St. Anne’s on Day St. and St. Louis at 48 Negus St. St. Joseph’s is not taking part in this change now, as was originally proposed, Superintendent Josephson said.
“There were a number of St. Joseph’s parishioners and parents who really wanted to keep St. Joseph’s St. Joseph’s,” she said.
Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, pastor of St. Joseph Basilica, which runs St. Joseph School, credited Bishop McManus with making a decision that showed concern for Catholic education and also respect for local circumstances.
“We pray that the new configuration will help to promote Catholic education in Webster,” he said. “It will be beneficial for all of us.”
The process of getting to this point started last year, when Bishop McManus commissioned Meitler Consultants, of Milwaukee, to conduct a diocesan-wide data study of Catholic education. Work began in February 2013 and ended last fall, Superintendent Josephson said. It looked at enrollment, finances, capacity of buildings, demographics, and other issues.
Leaders of parish, regional and central Catholic schools in the diocese received the study for internal use in strategic planning, she said. She said Webster was one of the first areas in the diocese to use it for a study leading to a localized plan.
Last November Webster pastors announced that Alan Meitler would facilitate a joint study committee to shape the new vision for Catholic education locally. The committee included the three pastors and people they recommended.
The three principals, who were not on the committee, met with Mr. Meitler and a Catholic Schools Office representative on a “parallel track” to keep them updated and get their input, Father Reid said. There were also meetings to inform parish and school representatives and get their input.
In May a “vision” to combine the three schools, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, was released. Kindergarten through grade 4 would be at St. Louis, grades 5-8 at St. Joseph’s and preschool at St. Anne’s. St. Louis was to be expanded eventually, and the preschool was to be moved there, leaving St. Anne’s school building unused, Father Reid said. St. Anne’s gym/hall would continue to be used.
Father Reid said feedback from the parish and school communities varied, but that feedback moved the study committee to ask Bishop McManus for time to consider this vision further and look at an alternative. He said Bishop McManus granted them six months.
A subcommittee worked on an alternative, and a few weeks ago presented it to the study committee, which recommended it to the bishop, Superintendent Josephson and Father Reid said. Bishop McManus accepted this proposal – to combine St. Anne’s and St. Louis into All Saints Academy.
The study committee was disbanded, having completed its charge, Superintendent Josephson said. But conversations it started with the Boston Archdiocese’s school department will continue, in order to learn from experiences with combining schools there.
During the deliberation process in Webster it became evident that “there is a need for some healing to take place,” she said. Some emotions stemmed from not knowing what would happen, “so we want to work quickly, but carefully,” she said. “Maybe this is kind of like an engagement period, where you work to prepare for coming together.” Each party brings strengths and weaknesses.
“You emphasize those strengths,” she said. “You’re not losing; you’re bringing them together. I think students and families, as this evolves, are going to be so excited.” She said she thinks other students – Catholics and others – will say, “I want to be part of that.”
Ellen Tagg, St. Anne’s development director, and Marilyn Berthiaume, a teacher there, made similar points. They spoke to The Catholic Free Press this week since the principal, Sister Constance Bayeur, a Sister of St. Anne, was away.
Mrs. Tagg said some families have been involved with St. Anne’s for several generations.
“Both schools – somehow we’re going to keep parts of their legacies,” she said. Mrs. Berthiaume said legacies are important in Webster.
In May, when the proposal for combining the three schools and eventually abandoning St. Anne’s building was released, there was an “uproar,” the women said.
“A lot of people were upset they had no input,” Mrs. Tagg said. She said parents felt decisions were made too fast and they didn’t understand the reasons behind choice of buildings.
The pastors and school department representatives listened to concerns, and she and Mrs. Berthiaume became part of the subcommittee which sought an alternative vision, she said.
Now parents still want more information, but seem pretty positive and hopeful, Mrs. Tagg said; she thinks they realize their children could get much more from the schools combining.
A St. Louis teacher came to buy tickets for a St. Anne’s fundraiser and said St. Louis’ teachers are excited about the change, Mrs. Berthiaume said. She said St. Anne’s student council members asked if they will be doing things with St. Louis students, with whom they play sports on town teams.
“They are already ready to join efforts,” she said.
The women said St. Anne’s invited St. Louis and St. Joseph schools to send all their students to a magic show St. Anne’s is hosting Jan. 23, 2015, for Catholic Schools Week, and both schools accepted. They said this is the first effort to bring all the students together since discussions about merging began.