By Patricia O’Connell
GARDNER – Father Brian P. O’Toole recently announced that Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart elementary schools will merge. This will take effect for the 2014-2015 school year.
There will be one school with two campuses, he explained.
Students in kindergarten through fourth-grade will attend the Holy Rosary campus. Sacred Heart will be a middle school. Preschool classes may be held at both schools, since there is enough space, he said.
“We’re just at the beginning of this conversation,” he added. “The next 24 months we’re going to be working out the details.”
Father O’Toole, pastor of both Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart parishes, said the decision was made in conjunction with finance committees of both parishes, as well as with both school boards and both school principals.
“It was just felt that this solution would be the best step to moving in the right direction – to help us move from surviving to thriving as well as to explore new opportunities,” he stated.
There’s an economic advantage to reducing any duplication of services and expenses, he noted. He said merging also allows for a single purpose in each building and an ability to “focus our energies.”
Currently, the two school boards meet separately.
“My hope is that this will also create new opportunities to provide instruction in areas we’re not providing in now,” he said, citing possible upgrades to the art, music and foreign-language programs.
Father O’Toole acknowledged the decision was not an easy one.
“You could see the strengths of both and the challenges of both,” he said, noting that both schools have an “excellent tradition” and both are accredited.
Current registration at Holy Rosary is 262 students, while Sacred Heart has 125 students.
“Both schools have a dedicated teaching staff and administration,” he added. “The challenge is trying to focus that energy.”
Father O’Toole said it’s not yet known if each building will have single-grade or double-grade classrooms, as it depends upon numbers. He said the maximum class size is 25. For example, he said if a particular grade has 40 students, it would be broken into two classes of 20.
He hoped the parish communities would view the changes not so much as a threat, but as an opportunity.
“That is the hope as we move into the future with a focused energy, always keeping the education and spiritual formation as the primary purpose and goal of our ministry here in the schools,” he stated.
Holy Rosary principal Donna Bresnahan said the process is “in flux right now.”
“There’s a lot to figure out,” she added.
Teachers and parents were informed of the impending merger, she noted.
“I’m trying to look at is as a positive change,” she said. “Lots of good things can come from this.”
Sacred Heart principal Donna Carrier said “there’s a lot of planning to be put into place.”
She believes the proposed middle school will be a good alternative to a public middle school, and she foresees possible expansion of the language arts program at both campuses.
“I’m excited about being on the ground floor of starting something new,” she added.
Father O’Toole said he received positive feedback at a recent festival at Sacred Heart as well as from parishioners coming out of Mass at Holy Rosary. “People were stopping me and affirming the direction we are going,” he said.