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 Danielle.Miess@temple.edu