Last fall, after more than 50 years of educating Catholic high school students, St. Joseph added sixth grade to its junior high program, but from the beginning, Robert Freund, president of the school, admitted it might be a precursor to an eventual K-12 collaborative Catholic education system in Kenosha.

“We already collaborated efforts between Mt. Carmel and St. Therese,” he said, “and we have been approached over the last few years about the ability to add sixth grade to St. Joseph Interparish Junior High, so aligning a K-12 Catholic education system and environment with St. Mark seems to make sense to preserve Catholic education in the area.”

When St. Therese and Mt. Carmel schools combined this year, the collaborative elementary school’s tuition dropped to $1,995 per year, a decrease of approximately $400 for St. Therese students.

Currently, K-5 students pay $2,500 per year to attend St. Mark, and $3,550 for sixth through eighth at St. Joseph Junior High and $6,850 for St. Joseph High School.

The substantial increase in high school tuition is taking its toll on enrollment, and Freund is hopeful that collaborating into one educational system while utilizing two campuses will increase overall enrollment.

“We want to create a seamless sequential K-12 program and we are exploring many options as far as tuition, and breaks we can offer to families who are committed to a long-term plan,” said Freund.

Under the plan, Ed Kovochich, principal of St. Joseph, would manage the academy, and current St. Mark principal, Frank Germinaro, would retire. Assistant principal Sr. Sylvia Leonardi would remain as St. Mark administrator.

Merging the curriculum for all grades makes sense, according to Freund, who believes that creating grade specific educational benchmarks are key to long-term success.

“We have the ability to combine resources by bringing everyone together,” he said. “We want the kids to experience success and hopefully we can continue to provide quality and affordable Catholic education in Kenosha.”

While not combining schools as in Kenosha, Racine St. Catherine High School will be implementing the middle school grades into its program beginning next fall; they already have 25 students registered for the sixth grade class.

According to Christopher Olley, president of St. Catherine High School, the sixth through eighth grades will be phased into the high school over a three-year period, beginning with the sixth grade.

“If demand or educational landscape changes, SCHS will adjust timeline and offerings,” he said. “All students are welcome to attend the program.”

While no schools have acknowledged a plan to shut down or eliminate grades for the 2010-11 academic year, SCHS hopes to be pro-active in having an attractive educational option if such decisions are made.

“Each parish school in Racine has or will complete a viability profile,” explained Olley, adding, “Some parents are surveying current parents about the delivery model to plan for the future.”

Leading the faculty is master teacher Elizabeth Blandford, a veteran English teacher with experience teaching grades 7 through 12 in six states. Additionally, she has taught on the college level with courses in composition and literature, and courses for teachers in the instructional process, and the writing of research papers.

Presenting topics at state conferences in Wisconsin, Arkansas and California, Blandford was also recognized the Phi Delta Kappa 2007 Outstanding Educator of the Year in southeastern Wisconsin and recognized six times in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. She has co-authored “Targets!” with Steve Olsen and authored “How to Write the Best Research Paper Ever.” She recently retired from Racine Unified as faculty trainer on the instructional process for the district.

“When President Olley asked me if I would be interested in developing and being the lead teacher for a Lighthouse Program for middle school students at St. Catherine it took me an entire meta second to say ‘yes,’” she said. “The next day I turned in my retirement papers to Racine Unified. Although we didn’t know if the program would be approved, I felt such a yearning to be part of this new initiative for students to have another educational opportunity in Racine. I just had to make the commitment. I feel it was a leap of faith and am so excited to be part of the St. Catherine family, and to begin with the groundwork planning for next year’s first class.”

The program will offer classes not currently available in all Racine Catholic schools, such as band, classes earning honors credit, counselors and state of the art technology. By challenging students based on their skill levels, students will learn to handle a more challenging curriculum.

“The St. Catherine’s program will be distinct from many other educational programs because it teaches students to understand and use critical and creative thinking skills in interdisciplinary units, including the four core subject areas, English, math, science and social studies, and sometimes the exploratory subjects as well,” said Blandford. “By seeing how concepts and skills are used differently and/or in the same way across the curriculum, students understand the concepts and skills better, remember them longer, and apply them appropriately to new learning situations. They are ready to apply those concepts and skills in the real world.”

Successful learning begins with willing students, supportive parents and outstanding teachers, said Olley, who is looking forward to having Blandford as the cornerstone of the staff.

“We will assemble a first-rate faculty over the next few years,” he said. “It will take some time, but I am confident that our mission, curriculum, technology and teachers will place our new 6-12 program among the very best schools.”

Under the Dominican tradition of community, prayer, study and service leadership Olley will garner some structure from the Jefferson Lighthouse gifted and talented program, but will primarily follow St Catherine’s 150 years of Dominican excellence.

“The goal of the program is using the various content areas in developing intellectual creative and socially productive individuals,” said Olley. “Through an interdisciplinary approach, the emphasis is on analyzing materials, problem solving, synthesizing knowledge, generalizing from facts rather than memorization. Most schools teach subjects as stand alone topics, requiring students to receive information from the instructor. St. Catherine’s hopes to connect the educational dots of our students, and help them understand how to become active learners.”