Catholic Free Press

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New Gardner academy offers sliding-scale tuition

Posted By May 29, 2014 | 12:07 pm | Lead Story #1
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By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

GARDNER – Father Brian P. O’Toole believes a Catholic education should be available to all who want it, so he’s decided to offer reduced tuition to families of moderate means at the newly formed Holy Family Academy.
This is the first such measure to be adopted in the diocese in recent years.
“I like to call it a stewardship-based approach; tuition based on a family’s ability to pay,” Father O’Toole explained. “No person should not send their children to a Catholic school because they cannot afford it.”
He noted that this is in keeping with the tradition of the Church, which has a history of providing for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Father O’Toole, pastor of both Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart of Jesus parishes, hopes this will attract more families to the school. He believes it’s important to get the word out that sliding-scale tuition is now being offered.
This new system is just one of many changes coming to Gardner this year, as Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart elementary schools merge into one school with two campuses.
In September, students in kindergarten through fourth grade will attend classes at the former Holy Rosary campus on Nichols Street. Older children will be educated at the former Sacred Heart school building on Lynde Street. The preschools will remain in place at both buildings.
Father O’Toole said the name of the new school was chosen because religious devotion in Gardner has a long history of being associated with the Holy Family. The names of the former schools, Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart, have a tie to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Also, the Presentation Sisters were the founding order at Holy Rosary school.
“There’s a lot of connection to the Holy Family in these two schools,” he noted.
Father O’Toole admitted these upcoming changes have been difficult for some people to accept. “There’s been a mixed feedback,” he said.
However, he said he is “excited about the possibilities” that could result from the consolidation and the new tiered-payment approach.
“We’re looking to the future, not just to provide a good education, but an excellent one,” he added.
Holy Family Academy will be led by Stephen Chartier, hired last year as principal for both schools.
Mr. Chartier said he believes the merger is going well. “I’m getting a lot of support from the community, the parents,” he said. He added that the “students are looking forward to meeting new friends.”
Although some adults may have reservations about the changes, the students don’t seem to share them, as they’ve gotten to know friends from the other school through participation in various activities, such as sports.
Mr. Chartier said socialization options will broaden with more students in each classroom.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity this will provide for faculty and students,” he stated. As an example, he noted that middle school teachers will have an easier time collaborating if they are all located in one building.
He said even though it will be a new school, it carries traditions from both, which should make the transition easier.
“It’s not like we’re starting from scratch,” he said. “We have a good core faculty.”
Although the consolidation means a few positions were eliminated, Mr. Chartier said layoffs were kept to a minimum. He said contracts were not renewed for five full-time positions and five part-time positions. He said some positions were saved by reducing the hours to half time.
“I’ve been able to move people around in such a way that we’ve been able to save most of the faculty,” he said.
At this point, the new school will open with 259 students, a drop from the 2013-14 enrollment of 333. Mr. Chartier said this is due to a number of factors, including the reluctance of some parents, who were used to one school, to make the switch.
But a bigger reason, he said, is competition from surrounding rural school districts, which now accept students living in the city of Gardner, through the “school choice” program. Many parents, he noted, would likely continue with parochial education if there were a Catholic high school nearby. However, instead, they opt for a closer option, such as Oakmont Regional High School, which serves the neighboring towns of Ashburhham and Westminster.
However, in order to ensure their children have a spot, they enroll them in the district earlier if an opening becomes available.
Unfortunately, he said, this affects enrollment in the Gardner Catholic schools. He noted that in other areas of the diocese, the parochial schools are “feeling the pinch of the charter schools.”
Mr. Chartier hopes the sliding-scale tuition system can counter some of this competition. “We’re reaching out to people,” he said. “We’re reaching out to a lot of people that now can afford a Catholic, Christian education.”