“Plans are coming together and 113 students are signed up to attend the new Mother Catherine Academy, an independent Catholic school opening its doors July 1.
The Archdiocese of Washington announced in January it would close Mother Catherine Spalding School in Helen, pointing to budget deficits and declining enrollment during the past five years.
After that announcement, plans were hatched to open a new nonprofit school in the same building, run not by the archdiocese, but by lay leaders.
“I’m sad Mother Catherine Spalding School has to close June 30, but I’m encouraged by parents and community who have taken on the challenge of founding and opening an independent Catholic School which is Mother Catherine Academy,” Tom Burnford, secretary of education for the archdiocese, said.
In recent months, a 15-member board of trustees has been selected to run the academy, led by board president Tom Cavanaugh.
Board member Jerry Spence, who has been active in opening the academy, said since word came of the potential closing of the school, many things have happened at opportune times that he feels could not be attributed to coincidence.
The opening of the academy with more than 100 students currently enrolled, he said, “is the work of the Holy Spirit.”
As of Thursday morning, the new school has enrolled 113 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, Spence said.
At the time the closure was announced, the Catholic school had 115 students enrolled from kindergarten to eighth grade. The school also had prekindergarten students, but those students were not included in the archdiocese enrollment count.
Cavanaugh explained that the board is currently in the process of obtaining nonprofit status and in the meantime, the local Knights of Columbus are serving as fiscal sponsors for any donations to the school.
The school has requested permission from the archdiocese for Catholic identity, which would connect the school to the archdiocese in terms of the school’s mission, formation and curriculum. Schools with Catholic identity must follow certain benchmarks in terms of staff, curriculum and other areas as laid out in the archdiocese policies.
Burnford said the academy currently has provisional status.
Cavanaugh said the board has also requested a chaplain appointed by the archdiocese.
The archdiocese would still provide tuition assistance as it has for the school it is closing this month, but operations and finances of the academy would be owned and operated by the board of trustees.
Cavanaugh said he is “very pleased with the diversity of professionalism on the board.”
He said the board would seek as much community input as possible to have an effective locally controlled school. To do that, the board agreed earlier this week to have about 12 committees, each represented by board members, school staff and school community members.
Examples of these groups are the educational and spiritual committees. The educational committee would work to review best practices from around the nation in order to enrich education at the academy. The spiritual committee would look at religious practices in the school and work as a liaison to pastors of the five parishes that geographically represent the school.
Spence said the school is getting frequent calls from prospective families, and said the current rate of enrollment for the upcoming school year is averaging three per week.
Cavanaugh said having 113 students enrolled in early June is encouraging and shows aggressive support from families who have enrolled early.
He said tuition at the academy will be handled differently from a typical Catholic school.
Tuition for a single student is set at $5,200, and families of two or more students would pay $8,950 a year. He said with the family price, the academy is seeking to invite back large families who are currently in public school or are home schooling. The academy will also pilot a program to allow for part-time students.
This would invite homeschool families to come and attend one class per day plus all extracurricular activities offered at the academy for a $1,000 fee.
Cavanaugh said this is an example of some of the innovative ideas for the school.
“I think this is an incredible opportunity,” Cavanaugh said of the new school. “It could become a model for our diocese and many others.”
School will start for students at the academy in August. School officials are planning sunrise Mass at the school for July 1, as “a Mass of celebration to give thanksgiving for the opportunity to open an independent Catholic school.””