An appeal of hope

St. Lauren­ti­us School may be down but it’s not out. The Fishtown school is ap­peal­ing the arch­diocese’s plan to close it at the end of the school year.

A meet­ing was held at Saint Lauren­ti­us School in Fishtown on Jan. 30 to dis­cuss its ap­peal of the Arch­dioceseÕs de­cision to close it at the end of the school year.

Al­though the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia plans to close Fishtown’s St. Lauren­ti­us School in June, school of­fi­cials, par­ents and teach­ers are work­ing around the clock to try to save it.

About 90 people at­ten­ded a Jan. 30 meet­ing at the school to learn more about plans to ap­peal the arch­dioces­an de­cision. Last month, in re­sponse to linger­ing fin­an­cial woes, the arch­diocese said it would shut­ter or merge five high schools and 45 ele­ment­ary schools — in­clud­ing St. Lauren­ti­us — in its five-county re­gion.

St. Lauren­ti­us made plans to fight.

Many res­id­ents at the meet­ing ex­pressed their an­ger against the planned clos­ing, con­tend­ing that the situ­ation could have been avoided.

“It al­most seems like they want to shut out people from go­ing to a private school un­less they have a lot of money,” said Rick Gir­ard, whose niece at­tends St. Lauren­ti­us, a com­bined middle and ele­ment­ary school.

Dur­ing a present­a­tion — which also was form­ally presen­ted to the arch­dioces­an ap­peals board on Jan. 24 — Chuck Valentine, a vo­lun­teer and par­ent of a St. Lauren­ti­us gradu­ate, de­tailed the many reas­ons that school of­fi­cials and oth­er back­ers think the school should re­main in op­er­a­tion. St. Lauren­ti­us has ex­is­ted for more than 120 years.

School of­fi­cials are await­ing a de­cision on their ap­peal.

When the arch­diocese ori­gin­ally de­tailed reas­ons for the planned clos­ures of schools, de­clin­ing en­roll­ments and dwind­ling fin­ances topped the list. As for St. Lauren­ti­us, the arch­diocese’s re­port claimed that at­tend­ance was 207 stu­dents, or just 67 per­cent of ca­pa­city.

Al­though at­tend­ance at the school is down from an all-time high of 271, there ac­tu­ally are 238 young­sters at St. Lauren­ti­us, Valentine said, and the fig­ure rep­res­ents 84 per­cent of ca­pa­city.

Valentine said school sup­port­ers also have taken is­sue with the claim that St. Lauren­ti­us is not of­fer­ing a 21st-cen­tury edu­ca­tion. They in­sist that ad­vances in new tech­no­logy, such as in­ter­act­ive smart boards in classrooms, and the pre­ser­va­tion of art and mu­sic classes have en­abled stu­dents to keep pace with new trends in edu­ca­tion.

ldquo;I looked at the case to close the school to see if was fac­tu­ally cor­rect,” Valentine said. “If it was something I couldn’t sup­port based on facts, I wouldn’t have wasted my time, but this case stands on its own.”

A par­ent at the ses­sion, AJ Thom­son, cri­ti­cized the meth­ods of a spe­cial com­mit­tee that made the re­com­mend­a­tions to arch­dioces­an of­fi­cials.

ldquo;The (com­mis­sion) re­port is so flawed, not just for us but for al­most every re­gion,” said Thom­son, a law­yer and fath­er of a first-grader at the school. “It is clearly a hu­man, not di­vine, pro­ject.”

St. Lauren­ti­us in­sisted that there are al­tern­at­ives to simply shut­ting the school. Sev­er­al par­ents at the meet­ing ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm for fund-rais­ing to pay off the school’s budget de­fi­cit. They talked about everything from raffles to so­li­cit­ing dona­tions from loc­al busi­nesses.

ldquo;We need to do everything we can pos­sibly do,” said Donna Siemi­en, par­ent of a St. Lauren­ti­us stu­dent. “There are things we need to do bet­ter, like fund-rais­ing. If we can stay open, we need to con­tin­ue things like that.”

If the shut­down of St. Lauren­ti­us proves in­ev­it­able, Valentine sug­ges­ted the com­munity might want to dis­cuss their in­terest in hav­ing it be­come an in­de­pend­ent private school.

Some of the res­id­ents feared that the de­mise of St. Lauren­ti­us would jolt the sense of com­munity. As Fishtown’s only Cath­ol­ic school, they said, its loss would be a somber note for the neigh­bor­hood, and Valentine agreed.

“The res­id­ents will tell you that it’s all about the com­munity and the neigh­bor­hood,” Valentine said. “The art and mu­sic scene is great too, but for some of the Fishtown­ers, the church is their neigh­bor­hood. Their kids go here, they wor­ship here; for them, fam­ily and neigh­bor­hood, it’s one and the same.

“People get mar­ried there, people get bap­tized there, and people get bur­ied from here. It’s a big thing,” Valentine ad­ded.

St. Lauren­ti­us and Port Rich­mond’s St. George Ele­ment­ary School are in the same situ­ation. Both ap­pealed shut­down or­ders and are hope­ful that the arch­diocese will is­sue fa­vor­able de­cisions later this month.

ldquo;We want com­munity,” said Mar­lene Sperry, who has a child en­rolled at St. Lauren­ti­us. “Well, if you don’t have a church and you don’t have a school, you don’t have com­munity. How do you teach your kids com­munity if you don’t have it?” ••

Dani­elle Miess can be reached at Dani­

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