KENOSHA — Despite a 40 percent increase in enrollment over the past three years, and plans for becoming a leader in the comprehensive K-8 plan for Catholic education, staff, teachers and students were stunned to learn in mid-January that St. Peter School, which has 104 students in Pre-K–8, will close at the end of the 2010-11 school year.
The closure is in addition to the decision at the end of last year to merge Mt. Carmel/St. Therese School, which has 67 students in Pre-K–6.

St. Peter principal Jaki Grajera anticipated the school would remain open as administrators were in the process of developing a plan with Holy Rosary, St. Mary and Mt. Carmel/St. Therese to design a collaborative plan with shared resources.
“St. Peter comes to the table with a wealth of marketing and development ideas, a strong curriculum, and educationally forward thinking, while the other schools are sharing their ideas of expertise,” Grajera wrote in the Oct. 3, 2010, parish bulletin. “St Peter School’s reputation in the community is one of growth. I am certain that our growth is largely due to positive word of mouth, our enthusiastic and dedicated staff and the strength of our ever-evolving educational program.”

Faced with the news of closure earlier in the year, Fr. Michael Nowak, pastor of St. Therese Parish, said it has become nearly impossible for parishes to finance schools on their own.
“Parishes are running on a deficit,” he said. “It can’t continue and we need to make some hard decisions and develop a model that will benefit all of the schools in the area. The decisions are hard, there’s no doubt about that and there are a lot of emotions, no one wants to see their school closed.”

School staff, faculty and parishioners received a letter announcing the closing from Brenda White, associate superintendent for archdiocesan Catholic schools. In it, White explained that the Kenosha Collaborative for Catholic Education has been working since July 2010 to develop a model to support and sustain Catholic education for the City of Kenosha and the surrounding area.
“The goal of this collaboration is to provide a regional model for Catholic education which is accessible, affordable, and available to all families in the Kenosha area,” she wrote. “Furthermore, the collaboration must present for approval to the Archbishop of Milwaukee, a model for Catholic Education that is truly collaborative among the parishes of the region, as well as the existing Catholic school system in the city.”

While the Kenosha Collaboration is developing a proposal for the archbishop outlining the facilities, funding and governance involved with maintaining K-8 schools in conjunction with the existing K-12 St. Joseph Academy, the committee agreed Tuesday Jan. 18, that K-8 programming will be conducted at two sites in the city.
“These campuses are the present St. Mary and Holy Rosary school sites,” said White. “Other parish schools may be utilized for other educational opportunities to be further discussed, including an Early Childhood Development Center, lifelong faith formation, retreat facilities, and/or partnering with area Catholic universities for continuing education.”

While the final model for education is not completed, several key elements are needed for feasibility of the project. Financial support from all 10 of the parishes in the Kenosha region will fund the comprehensive educational plan.
“The specific formula for financial support for all of Catholic education in the Kenosha region is being developed collaboratively by members of the Kenosha Collaboration, St. Joseph’s Academy and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in order to assure an equitable assessment of the parishes based on their financial strengths and existing obligations,” explained White. She added, “A three-year commitment is requested from each of the parishes in the Kenosha region to support Catholic education in order to assure fiscal stability in the near future.”

In upcoming weeks, the Collaboration will develop a formal presentation of the plan to Archbishop Listecki. In it will be a letter of commitment from each of the pastors from the Kenosha region, a facilities plan, a funding model, a system of governance, an education plan, and a plan to hire faculty and staff.
“There is a lot to do and there is a lot of expertise and knowledgeable people to speak with,” said White. “We have some really fine parish leaders, principals and pastors involved in this. I wish we had the plan all laid out, but we have done a lot of work on this and have a lot left to do. We are creating something new to bring vibrancy and a sustainable model to secure Catholic education for future generations. We want our kids and today’s kids’ grandkids to be able to have a Catholic education in the City of Kenosha and elsewhere in the diocese.”

Julie Wolf, communications director for the archdiocese, agreed and added that while the change is very difficult and emotional for everyone involved, it is important to retain and expand affordable Catholic education in Kenosha.
“Everyone on the Collaboration Committee is committed to Catholic education and committed to making it accessible and affordable in the Kenosha region,” she said. “We are committed to keeping the people informed as the process unfolds.”