Fights. Students in trouble. Girls getting pregnant in eighth grade.
These things scared Isabel Gonzalez during her kindergarten through eighth grade years in Chicago’s public schools.
But Gonzalez’ life changed with her acceptance into Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, part of the Cristo Rey Network, an organization that provides Catholic, college preparatory education to young people in urban communities with limited educational options.
In 2009, Gonzalez became the first in her family to graduate from high school, and the first to attend college.
“I think Cristo Rey just prepares you with the right amount of hard work, the right advice with study skills, how to organize, how to balance everything out – activities as well as working,” said Gonzalez, a Marquette University junior who, as an Urban Scholar, is studying corporate communications and Spanish for the professions on a full scholarship.
Those interested in supporting the feasibility study that Marquette University’s College of Education is conducting to see if Milwaukee would be a good site for a Cristo Rey high school can contact Bill Henk, dean of the College of Education at Marquette, at (414) 288-7376 or by email.
Low-income students in Milwaukee might also one day reap the benefits of a Cristo Rey Network High School education, as the organization announced last week that Marquette University’s College of Education is conducting a feasibility study to determine if a need exists in Milwaukee, and the Bradley Foundation has agreed to be the lead funder.
Bill Henk, dean of the College of Education at Marquette, said the idea arose in an informational meeting about three years ago. Enthusiasm was present, but the religious entity needed to sponsor a study wasn’t.
“I think what happened was, for whatever reason, no order stepped up….” Henk told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview, noting that the Jesuits were, at the time, involved in establishing a Cristo Rey school in Minneapolis, in the same province.
“More recently, Marquette was kind of encouraged to take a look at the feasibility study to see if we might qualify as that religious entity, and we found out that we could.”
He said they contacted Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent for schools for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, to see if Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki would be supportive.
“He knew about the rich tradition and history of the school, and so he was immediately agreeable to it,” said Henk, whose job as a co-principal investigator is to make sure the study gets underway, is done correctly and properly reported.
Rob Birdsell, president and CEO of Cristo Rey Network, Milwaukee native and former English teacher at Marquette University High School, said that the organization was talking about the possibility of expanding to Milwaukee because of the city’s strong, Catholic presence and long history of Catholic education.
“We’re very excited to partner with the university. This is the first time a university has stepped up to lead a study so that’s very exciting to us, and the business community is actively engaged in a number of our schools around the country….” he said, naming Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated as an example of one that employs students as part of the curriculum for one day each week during a four-year work-study program that funds the majority of tuition.
“There’s a lot of connectivity with Cristo Rey in Milwaukee, so it just makes sense for us to … do a study to examine whether a school would be feasible,” he said.
Studies range from $100,000 to $150,000 – about $50,000 is still needed for the Milwaukee study – which will formally launch in June, to be fully funded over the year, Birdsell said.
“One of the core components of the study is to determine where need is greatest and where the site would be best located,” Birdsell said, noting that 25 percent of studies don’t lead to the creation of a school for various reasons. “We don’t want to go to a community that doesn’t need us.”
The study will be comprised of 300 interviews with parents and students to gauge need and determine whether they’d want to attend a school like Cristo Rey; interviews with political, educational and community leaders to determine if the community would welcome this type of school; market analyses to gauge whether there would be enough business support, critical to the school’s work-study model. It will also determine whether enough philanthropic support exists, and whether it would be part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
“It’s a market analysis and feasibility study to determine if it’s right for everybody,” said Birdsell, who noted each of the 24 Cristo Rey Network schools in 17 states and Washington D.C., serves between 400 and 600 students who cannot be admitted to another school financially or academically; many are behind by two to three grade levels.
Andy Stith, founding development director of Cristo Rey Kansas City High School in Kansas City, Mo., and currently its vice president for institutional advancement, will relocate June 4 to be the study’s feasibility director.
“He is moving his family from Kansas City to Milwaukee to lead the study, which is pretty amazing when you think about it,” Birdsell said. “He’s got three young kids and he’s uprooting them and moving to Milwaukee because … he believes so much in this project.”
Stith, a 2001 Marquette University graduate, said the task will look at the different constituencies and the educational ecosystem of existing schools to determine whether Cristo Rey would be a good addition to, and able to thrive in, Milwaukee.
Stith said he expects the process to be credible and transparent, taking all of the factors into consideration.
“I think that’s the best outcome we can hope for, and if the school goes forward, based on the results of the study, then I think that would be a great thing,” he said. “If the study comes back and says a Cristo Rey school can’t be supported or wouldn’t be something that would be needed in Milwaukee, then I think that’s an equally as valid result and I think that respecting those conclusions would also be a good thing. So, either way we come out, I think the process and how we go about ascertaining whether or not the school is a fit for Milwaukee is the important part of this.”