Central location favored St. Aloysius site

Research suggested the best choice would be to close the St. Rita site at 6021 W. Lincoln Ave., and to allow the St. Aloysius site at 1435 S. 92nd St. to remain open due to its central location, according to Carmelite Fr. Leonard Copeland, pastor of St. Florian and Holy Assumption.

“It benefited the needs of Mary Queen of Saints at the present time, and also hopefully for future expansion if we need to,” Fr. Copeland explained. “We did not have enough students to justify maintaining two sites, and the projected enrollment is not indicating we’re going to have a need for two sites because of the demographics of our area.” 

While Larson understands merging two campuses will be difficult, she is adamant that, despite MQSCA having been a two-campus school, it functioned as “one school.”

“I really do expect it to be smooth,” she said about the transition, which will take place in time for the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. “We’ve done all-academy days so the kids know each other. We do our sports programs; they are all combined. Home and school is combined, so it’s not like we haven’t already been one school; it’s just a question of being located in one building.”

Half of academy staff lost jobs

Larson praised the staffs of both campuses, and noted that both locations had to downsize to make the situation work. Through a “reduction in force” process, teachers were re-evaluated, and half of the entire academy staff was let go.

“We followed the recommendation of the Milwaukee archdiocesan school office,” Fr. Copeland explained regarding the staff reduction. “We followed it pretty much to try and do our best to fulfill the requirements and to make it fair to everybody.

“It was very difficult,” he added. “It’s always very difficult when you reduce force, but I think (teachers) responded very, very well, even though I’m sure some were disappointed. But we did the best that we could to be fair to everybody.”

Reviewing teacher certification and class needs was also a factor in the staff reduction decision.

“It wasn’t that they weren’t good teachers,” Fr. Copeland insisted. “It was just that sometimes they were certified for certain areas and we had more teachers in certain areas than we could use.”

According to Fr. Copeland and Larson, merging the campuses is beneficial.

“We are planning to improve our after-school care program, and we are planning to improve our resource center, and our upper grades are going to have Spanish twice a week instead of once a week, so we are planning to do some of those types of things,” Larson explained. “Plus, we are offering class sizes that are more beneficial for social interactions, as well as discussions and things.”

Class size will be 15 to 20 students, which is the optimal number, according to Larson.

“The idea is to be able to provide a fuller expansion of our curriculum and educational opportunities for our students,” Fr. Copeland added.

Parents look for transportation options

Transportation is one of the concerns parents might have.

“I think there are some problems,” Larson admitted. “We did have quite a few children who walked to school, so I think there will be some issues. I did anticipate more problems than what I’m seeing right now. I was more concerned about it when they were starting, but people haven’t really talked to me about it much.

“I think that we have probably lost a few families who have opted not to move to one building or the other, so that would certainly be a downfall,” Larson said. “Right now, I’m pretty optimistic about our numbers, and I would say that, outside of the fact that we have to leave a perfectly nice school building, I don’t see tons of downfalls.”

While the school building at St. Rita’s currently remains closed, the parish is hoping to make good use of it by renting the space. When MQSCA was using the building, the paish only charged enough to cover operating expenses, according to Susan Barczak, business manager at St. Rita. The parish plans to continue that practice with whomever it finds to rent it. As of this month, a few people have toured the building in hopes of renting it, but no serious offers have been extended to the parish, according to Barczak.

Yearly tuition for MQSCA is $2,220 per child for a parish member, and $4,325 for a non-parish member. According to Larson, that will not change due to the merger.

While a few parents have decided to withdraw their children from the school, others are keeping them there, including St. Aloysius parishioner Joan Tendler. When her son Matthew was enrolled last year as a sixth grader at MQSCA, he had some catching up to do after having attended various public schools. According to Tendler, MQSCA was the perfect place for him to do it.

“I think they are compassionate,” she said. “My son was behind in school, and they were not only willing to help him, but they were happy to. …I attributed every bit of it to their attitude, what they do, how they do it.”

In addition to teachers, parents and students were also very supportive, she added.

School sought parental input

The school kept parents informed about the potential merging of the campuses by asking them to fill out surveys and give their input whenever possible, according to Claire Brefka a Holy Assumption parishioner whose children attended the St. Rita site.

“It was then that I knew there was probably going to be some kind of merger,” she said, describing the scene this past year. “I’m glad that it’s all one school now (though). That was something that had to be done.

“I’m dedicated to Catholic education,” Brefka said about why she will continue to send her children to MQSCA. “It didn’t matter to me what building the school was in. It’s a Catholic education near my house, God is everywhere; it didn’t matter if it was in this building or that building.”

While Brefka was happy to go wherever school officials decided, she had one concern: choosing the right faculty members.

“They had to cut half the faculty,” she said. “I knew how great they were (at St. Rita), but I didn’t know what was happening at the other building.”

Although some of the teachers with whom she and her children were familiar were laid off, Brefka is happy with the teachers chosen for the coming school year.

“I’m just really excited,” she said. “Overall, it’s better to merge into one than to have split classrooms.”

Debbie Mauher’s children will continue to attend the St. Aloysius site, but she feels that the school – despite having been at two different locations – was always one.

“I think that it is going to be a very positive change for the school,” said Mauher, a member of Mary Queen of Heaven. “A lot of people still had misconceptions about the school that was always one school but two sites, but I think a lot of people still refer to it as two separate schools, which wasn’t really the case. So, I think it will be very positive for the school that we will all be together at one site.

“It is a little unfortunate though, because I think it was nice for families to have a choice, and they no longer have that. It’s either you go here or that’s it,” she added. “That was one of the drawbacks I saw. Obviously, families choose certain sites for certain reasons.”

Mauher is excited about the coming school year.

“I think the school is a good example of how all the parishes can work together very well,” she said. “I got to know many families from other parishes now, and I just feel very comfortable going to any of the churches in West Allis/West Milwaukee as a result. It’s not like I feel like an outsider; I know a lot of families that go to all these churches, from the school, so I feel very welcomed and actually a part of that whole community that way.”