Northeast Times

Focusing on the future

St. Matt’s spir­it: (Front row, from left) El­ev­en-year-olds Patrick Coyle, Nat­alie Sol­it­ario and Michelle Gar­cia and (back row) Lauren Wo­jhicki, Maura Stock­lin and Michela Weber all sit in room 46 dur­ing a les­son at St. Mat­thew School. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA /

— St. Matt’s and oth­er Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary schools are do­ing what’s ne­ces­sary to thrive in a com­pet­it­ive en­vir­on­ment.

When an Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia blue rib­bon com­mis­sion an­nounced its re­com­men­ded school clos­ings and mer­gers in Janu­ary 2012, St. Mat­thew Ele­ment­ary School was on the list.

“That was a com­plete sur­prise to us,” said Sis­ter Kath­leen Touey, IHM, the prin­cip­al.

St. Mat­thew, loc­ated on Cottman Av­en­ue in West May­fair, has one of the largest en­roll­ments in the arch­diocese. The com­mis­sion re­com­men­ded that stu­dents from Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion move to St. Matt’s. A com­mit­tee would choose a new school name and uni­form col­ors and fac­ulty mem­bers would have to re­apply for their jobs.

In the end, St. Matt’s filed a suc­cess­ful ap­peal and was able to keep its name, uni­forms and teach­ers. Our Lady of Con­sol­a­tion didn’t both­er to ap­peal, and 105 of its 175 stu­dents even­tu­ally en­rolled at St. Matt’s.

St. Matt’s is also home to stu­dents who once at­ten­ded St. Bartho­lomew, St. Bern­ard, St. Leo and Our Lady of Ransom, area schools that have closed in re­cent years.

“The kids are fit­ting in very well. We’ve rolled out the red car­pet for them,” said Sis­ter Kate, who has been prin­cip­al for 15 years.

St. Matt’s has 892 chil­dren in kinder­garten through eighth grade and ex­pects more than 900 to be en­rolled next school year. There are four classes in each grade. A pre-kinder­garten pro­gram will de­but in Septem­ber.

In this day and age — with chan­ging neigh­bor­hoods, com­pet­i­tion from charter schools, rising tu­ition and smal­ler fam­il­ies — that’s a lot for a Cath­ol­ic ele­ment­ary school.

“The school is an im­port­ant part of the com­munity. It’s a rock in many ways. It says the com­munity is sol­id and stable,” said Monsignor Charles E. Mc­Groarty, pas­tor at St. Matt’s for 26 years and a priest for 50 years. “The school is a def­in­ite at­trac­tion. People want their kids to go to St. Matt’s school. There is a spir­it here at St. Mat­thew that per­vades the en­tire area.”

Still, St. Matt’s isn’t rest­ing on its laurels.

“We don’t want the status quo. We want to move for­ward,” Sis­ter Kate said.

“We want to be at a thou­sand stu­dents in five years,” said school ad­vance­ment dir­ect­or Bar­bara Gress.

Aca­dem­ic­ally, the school spent two years pre­par­ing for a re­cent vis­it from the Middle States As­so­ci­ation ac­cred­it­a­tion com­mis­sion.

There’s a vet­er­an fac­ulty, and stu­dents score above the na­tion­al av­er­age in read­ing and math on the Ter­raN­ova achieve­ment tests.

The school boasts two eighth-graders who won four-year Con­nelly Found­a­tion high school schol­ar­ships. Mat­thew Feeney will at­tend Fath­er Judge, and Kaylee Krapp will en­roll at St. Hubert.

Tu­ition is a re­l­at­ively low $2,400, with grants avail­able and dis­counts for fam­il­ies with mul­tiple chil­dren en­rolled.

The St. Mat­thew Home and School As­so­ci­ation is act­ive.

In ad­di­tion, the non­profit Friends of St. Mat­thew Inc. has been es­tab­lished, with a vo­lun­teer board of dir­ect­ors charged with rais­ing money to lessen the bur­den on the par­ish to sup­port the school.

The school re­lies on sup­port from cur­rent and former pa­rish­ion­ers, along with its large num­ber of gradu­ates.

“We have lots of stake­hold­ers in­volved. We’re over 10,000 alumni,” said Gress, who has been on the job for two years.

A fun­drais­ing so­cial was held on March 2, and Ride the Tide V, a cel­eb­ra­tion for alums and oth­er par­ish sup­port­ers, is set for Ju­ly 13 at Keen­an’s Ir­ish Pub in North Wild­wood, N.J.

Also, the St. Mat­thew Par­ish and School and Ad­vance­ment Pro­gram began last Septem­ber and will run through Au­gust 2014. Its mis­sion is to provide op­por­tun­it­ies for school growth and fu­ture sus­tain­ab­il­ity.

The goal of the vari­ous com­mit­tees is to raise $490,000.

“This is a very new pro­cess at the ele­ment­ary school level,” Gress said.

Mc­Groarty said St. Mat­thew isn’t the only loc­al school with a real fo­cus on fu­ture sus­tain­ab­il­ity. He cited St. Kath­er­ine of Si­ena and St. Chris­toph­er as two oth­ers.

At the same time, the folks at St. Matt’s say the val­ues and mor­als taught at the school are para­mount.

“You can nev­er put a price on that,” Gress said.

Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia of­fi­cials like what they see at St. Matt’s and oth­er schools in the North­east.

Tom Smith, chief op­er­at­ing of­fice and act­ing sec­ret­ary for Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion, cited the lead­er­ship and sta­bil­ity at St. Matt’s.

As for oth­er schools, he said Our Lady of Cal­vary and St. An­selm are among those of­fer­ing spe­cial re­sources.

“The North­east is still a pretty sol­id area. En­roll­ment is fairly good,” he said of loc­al schools, where the stu­dent pop­u­la­tion is gen­er­ally at 375 or more.

Jac­qui Coc­cia, su­per­in­tend­ent of ele­ment­ary schools, pre­vi­ously served as prin­cip­al at Holy Trin­ity in Bridge­port and St. Denis in Haver­town.

Coc­cia likes the mod­el at St. Matt’s. Hav­ing Gress ded­ic­ated to ad­vance­ment is­sues al­lows Sis­ter Kate to fo­cus on aca­dem­ic pro­grams and classroom in­struc­tion.

The su­per­in­tend­ent is high on the Dis­trib­uted Lead­er­ship Pro­gram, an ini­ti­at­ive of the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania that provides train­ing, peer coach­ing and pro­fes­sion­al de­vel­op­ment for fac­ulty mem­bers. Among the schools tak­ing part are St. Domin­ic, St. Cecil­ia, St. Kath­er­ine of Si­ena and St. Chris­toph­er.

“We had a dif­fi­cult year last year, but I see op­por­tun­ity for growth in that area. It’s en­cour­aging,” she said of North­east schools.

Sis­ter Ed­ward Wil­li­am Quinn, IHM, the arch­diocese’s dir­ect­or of ele­ment­ary cur­riculum and in­struc­tion, said she’s buoyed by the num­ber of teach­ers who at­ten­ded a re­cent after-school work­shop at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel on Roosevelt Boulevard and a Sat­urday work­shop at St. Chris­toph­er.

Sis­ter Ed­ward, who taught at St. Matt’s from 1975-78 and had two stints at St. Joachim, said the arch­diocese is proud of St. Cecil­ia fifth-grader Josephine Nguy­en, who is ranked No. 1 na­tion­ally in First In Math, a com­pre­hens­ive on­line prac­tice pro­gram. She at­tained that rank as a fourth-grader at St. Wil­li­am, which closed last June.

Sis­ter Ed­ward also poin­ted to an ac­cel­er­ated math tele­con­fer­ence pro­gram that in­cludes Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord Re­gion­al School.

Sis­ter Ed­ward agrees that St. Mat­thew and oth­er schools have to spread the word about what goes on in­side its build­ings.

“We haven’t soun­ded our horn enough,” she said. “We have an aw­ful lot of good go­ing on. We need to do a little bit more mar­ket­ing about the qual­ity pro­grams we do have. We have to tell our story more.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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