Cathedral Academy to close May 2013
Dr. Jan Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, announced on Dec. 4 the closure of Cathedral Academy in the French Quarter. The closure will be effective at the end of the academic year in May 2013.
To allay concerns about the closure, Lancaster met with Cathedral Academy faculty after school dismissal on Dec. 4, and then later that evening with parents of students currently attending Cathedral Academy. Parents were presented a letter explaining the decision and given information about all Catholic schools in Orleans Parish.
In an effort to create a smooth transition for Cathedral Academy students, St. Stephen Catholic School in Uptown New Orleans has agreed to accept any student from Cathedral Academy who would like to enroll there.
While there will be a place for every Cathedral Academy student at St. Stephen, parents may choose to send their child to any Catholic school. Families who choose to register at St. Stephen will have the opportunity to register with returning students and to visit the campus at an open house specifically for the Cathedral Academy community prior to the registration deadline.
The Office of Catholic Schools will be available to assist families in selecting another Catholic school for their child and to aid in the registration process. Students who receive a scholarship through the State Scholarship for Excellence program will have no difficulties transferring to another Catholic school that accepts scholarships.
“Change can be difficult but it is our goal to create a strong family of Catholic schools in our area,” Dr. Lancaster said. “We want to work with families to help them make the best decisions for their children.”
New criteria set
Closing any school is never an easy decision, Lancaster said, and closing Cathedral Academy certainly was not impulsive but based on key criteria identified in a new strategic plan that will be formally announced in the spring of 2013.
The strategic plan outlines specific benchmarks that a school has to meet to be considered viable. The guidelines are broken into three indicators:
Primary: current enrollment and 10-year trend; differential between cost per student and tuition; amount of required parish and archdiocesan subsidy;
Secondary: student academic performance; number and percentage of Catholic students served; quality of leadership; strength of Catholic identity; presence of a multi-year strategic plan;
Extenuating circumstances: demographic projections for the area; number of baptisms in feeder parishes; size of the parish religious education programs in feeder parishes; location of nearby Catholic schools.
Cathedral Academy’s closure was the result of multiple factors, including low enrollment, finances and the overall condition of the school’s facilities, Lancaster said.
Assuring academic success
Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the Office of Catholic Schools embarked over the past two years on a strategic plan to shape the future of Catholic schools. Dr. Leonard DeFiore and Dr. John Convey of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., were brought in to study the archdiocese’s schools and make recommendations that would strengthen and position schools for the future.
The archdiocese took the initial recommendations by DeFiore and Convey and then sought input from all education stakeholders – principals, presidents, superiors of religious orders, pastors and parents – to ensure that the best decisions were being made for Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
“One of the important findings that arose from the strategic planning process was that we have viable, successful schools,” Lancaster said. “Recommendations for closures or mergers were part of the plan from the beginning to ensure we had strong schools that are authentically Catholic, had strong academics and were affordable for families that wanted to receive Catholic education.”
When enrollment figures were finalized this school year, fewer Catholic schools experienced declines in student enrollment, Lancaster noted. In fact, other Catholic schools that were being considered for closure at the beginning of this school year experienced significant enrollment growth partly due to the influx of 1,500 State Scholarships for Excellence Program students or they met several important benchmarks that allowed them to remain open.
On Nov. 30, State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled that diverting taxpayer money from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) to private schools was unconstitutional. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and the state are expected to appeal.
“I am honestly proud to say that many of our schools that were being considered for closure have seen great success in the past year and achieved several benchmarks in their own plans, which have allowed them to stay open,” Lancaster said.
To close only one school now and monitor and work with other schools was the best way to go at this time, she said.
“Schools will be reviewed annually based on the criteria set by the strategic plan to ensure they remain viable,” Lancaster said. “If a school does not meet standards, it could be recommended for closure in the future.”
Future of cathedral campus.
At the end of the academic year, the Cathedral Academy campus will remain vacant, Lancaster said. It is too soon to discuss any future plans for the Cathedral facilities.
Lancaster said apprehension can accompany any change, but sometimes change is necessary to remain viable. She is excited about the future of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
“As we move into the future and announce the implementation strategies of the strategic plan, we have an incredible opportunity to work within our schools to ensure their success,” she said. “I am excited to be working with our archbishop toward a bright future for Catholic education in New Orleans.”