During the last decade, Catholic education has been challenged by issues ranging from falling enrollment to an increase in financial concerns. Parish and school administrators, families and educators have had to “think outside the box” for answers to these trends. For personnel connected with a group of schools in some small communities in the northern part of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the solution to their falling enrollment and economic constraints sent them not just “outside the box,” but also outside the diocesan boundaries.
The Consolidated Parochial Elementary School (CPES) district encompasses a group of schools serving an area known as the “Holyland,” which crosses through communities mostly located in Fond du Lac County. It specifically attracts students from communities like St. Cloud, Mt. Calvary, Johnsburg and Marytown. Incorporated in 1969, CPES serves fourth through eighth-graders at the St. Cloud school, while pre-K through third-grade students are taught at St. John in Johnsburg.
According to Capuchin Fr. Steven Kropp, pastor at St. Isidore in St. Cloud, a letter was recently sent to Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki asking permission for a reconfiguration of CPES, which would close the St. Cloud facility, and move all students in pre-K through fifth grade to the Johnsburg facility. In addition, in a unique collaboration, a recommendation was made that middle school students would move to Divine Savior Catholic School in New Holstein, located in the Green Bay Diocese.
The move made logistic sense in many ways. Divine Savior is in the New Holstein School District, which also encompasses the CPES schools.
“That’s why we looked to them,” Fr. Kropp said, noting that things like busing routes, school calendars, etc., were already in place.
Fr. Kropp praised the efforts afforded by the personnel at the Green Bay Diocese, along with the Milwaukee Archdiocese, who helped with the recommendation to this proposed collaboration.
“We’ve been very blessed to have their support. They’ve helped immensely along the way. Both the archbishop and the bishop of Green Bay (Bishop David L. Ricken) have been very supportive because they, too, want to see the future of Catholic education continue,” the priest said.
While the recent recommendation to the archbishop formalizes this collaboration, a relationship already existed between CPES and Divine Savior.
“We currently share a principal between the two schools,” Fr. Kropp said, referring to Divine Savior and CPES principal Gerard Stepanek. “We’re looking to the possibility of sharing staff between the two schools like in art or music, some of the specialties. It makes sense to us. It offers us some great potential.”
With only 92 students enrolled currently in the CPES system, and a large graduating class of eighth graders, Fr. Kropp said the necessity to make some changes and concessions was obvious. In addition, the St. Cloud school was literally more than 100 years old, while the Johnsburg facility had some more modern features, including a gymnasium.
“St. John’s was really the best facility,”
Fr. Kropp said.
But the overriding desire remained making Catholic education available and affordable, which drove the recommended changes.
“We proposed these changes in a way to best serve our kids and to do it in a way that was fiscally possible while keeping our local school identity, which is significant in this area,” Fr. Kropp said.
The priest said that changes in staff would be necessary.
“We’re hoping it will be as minimal as possible. It has been a difficult process and we’ve had difficult moments, but it was not unexpected,” he said, noting that in the past four years since he’s been associated with CPES almost 30 students have left the system.
Despite challenges, Fr. Kropp is optimistic.
“I think what we’ve really always wanted to stress is that our goal and our purpose is to offer affordable and quality Catholic education,” he said. “That’s really our goal. We wanted to make sure there’s Catholic education – even if it’s small, even if it’s not exactly where we hoped and liked it to be; we’ve still got it, and we can build.”
Stepanek said he hopes CPES will remain proud of itself and its accomplishments, “and that we will bring that positive perspective into this new endeavor. The collaboration is neither an ending nor a beginning but a continuation of the spirit of excellence that has sustained each school since their inception, it is growth in a new direction.”