Whether Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School will come to Milwaukee is still uncertain as it’s pending approval from the Cristo Rey Network (CRN), an organization that provides Catholic, college preparatory education to young people in urban communities with limited educational options, and from the Society of Jesus as the religious sponsor.  
A feasibility study is on schedule to be completed and submitted to Cristo Rey Network for approval this spring to see if Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School will come to Milwaukee. As part of the study, the St. Florian Parish School building in West Milwaukee has been chosen as the site of the potential school. (Catholic Herald photo by Tracy Rusch)

But the feasibility study for the school is on schedule to be completed and submitted to CRN for approval this spring, according to Anne Zizzo, a trustee at Marquette University, co-chair of the feasibility study, and member of the volunteer transition board, involved in the communication efforts and search committee.

Launching a high-level nationwide search for a president, and identifying a site for the school are part of the process, said Zizzo, explaining that in addition to the classified advertisement published in the Jan. 23 issue of the Catholic Herald, ads ran across a number of sources affiliated with the CRN and appropriate education sources.

Having a president for Cristo Rey Milwaukee Jesuit High School, “is one of the components that we need to have identified in the feasibility study. … ” she said in a phone interview with the Catholic Herald. “We have a number of set points that we have to have (accomplished) for the feasibility study to determine whether or not the Cristo Rey High School can come to Milwaukee.”

Zizzo, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls, said they’ve also chosen St. Florian Parish School building in West Milwaukee for the site of the potential school that would open its doors to its inaugural freshman class in fall 2015, according to the advertisement.

The Sisters of St. Agnes served St. Florian School for almost 100 years until it closed in 2004. The building is being used by the Milwaukee Achiever Literacy Services Scott Center and by the parish for fish fries and other events.

“We’re just so excited about it, and it’s a great location,” she said, noting that the building is in great condition and basically ready to go if the school gets the green light. “It’s accessible from the south and the north, and the transit lines, and it’s met all of our criteria in that regard.”

According to Zizzo, the building is large enough to handle the size of the classes, 100-125 students, and has the amenities they would need, including a gym, cafeteria, classrooms and parking.

According to the advertisement, the coeducational school, serving students of diverse backgrounds, would be the first new work of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, a new Jesuit province forming from the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit provinces. It would be a member of the Jesuit Secondary Educational Association and the CRN, further served by the resources of the archdiocese, Marquette University and the State of Wisconsin Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

There are currently 26 CRN Catholic, college preparatory high schools in 25 states and D.C., including Cristo Rey Jesuit High School that opened in Chicago in 1996, the first of its kind to offer the rigorous academic model, supported by the best practices in instruction and assessment, employing a Corporate Work Study Program where every student works an average of five days a month in entry-level corporate or business settings to fund the majority of his or her schooling, according to the CRN website.

If the Milwaukee school is approved, it too would welcome students of all faiths from families of limited financial means and diverse backgrounds, and “help its students grow intellectually, religiously, emotionally, socially, and morally, to graduate from high school and college to become the future leaders in our churches, institutions, businesses, nonprofits, and the community at large,” as described in the advertisement.

Zizzo said that the feasibility study, by the time they’re done, will have been a nearly two-year process of understanding business support for the school, and securing fundraising, financial stability and sustainability. 

The feasibility study comprises: 

n interviews with parents and students to gauge need and to determine whether they’d want to attend a school like Cristo Rey; 

n interviews with political, educational and community leaders to determine if the community would welcome this type of school; 

n market analyses to gauge business support critical to the school’s work-study model – Cristo Rey Network schools rely on businesses, like Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, that employ students as part of the curriculum for one day each week during a four-year work-study program, funding the majority of tuition.

The study also determines whether enough philanthropic support exists as well as whether it would be part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. According to CRN’s website, the feasibility study clarified the school would be able to participate in the program, and would receive $7,856 per Milwaukee Parental Choice Program participant enrolled, helping to ensure the school’s financial sustainability.

Marquette University’s College of Education made history when it stepped up as the religious entity sponsoring the feasibility study that officially launched in June 2012 – the first university to partner with Cristo Rey Network to lead a study. The Bradley Foundation agreed to be the lead funder of the study, which ranges in cost from $100,000 to $150,000.

Zizzo, a self-described “big believer in Catholic education” whose children attended Catholic grade school and are attending Catholic high school, said Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School would not only help solve a need for more Catholic high school seats for Catholic school graduates, but also transform the lives of students who come from low-income families by having an impact upon the educational and career destinies of thousands of youth and their families.

“We want the school to be a place that families and young people want to go. We want this to be a school where they’re looking forward to learning there, to transforming themselves from teenagers into young, college-ready adults. …” Zizzo said. “We want it to be what it is, pristine, safe, a place that they’re proud of and that businesses are proud to be associated with, and that parents are looking at this as an opportunity, that it’s a blessing to be able to go there.”

Zizzo said the board has been working on meeting all of the criteria – operational, financial, location … etc. – so that if the school is approved, they can rapidly work on getting it up and running.

“It’s a very thorough process and we’re making no presumptions,” she said. “There is a lot of enthusiastic support, again, from the business community, from the Jesuits, the archdiocese, Marquette University – I mean we’ve got great community support for this, but as with anything, you’ve got to just go – any kind of process like this and any kind of business planning – you have to go through a methodical approach to each of the steps and that’s what we’re doing right now.”