by Gretchen Phillips · The Enterprise · 8/28/2015

Mother Catherine Academy marks a fresh start – by Gretchen Phillips – The Enterprise – 8/28/2015


Classes for 141 students began Wednesday at the new Mother Catherine Academy, an independent Catholic school in Helen.


Until this summer, the school’s building was home to Mother Catherine Spalding School, which closed at the end of June.


Wednesday’s opening was the culmination of community efforts to revive the school under a new name.


Principal Linda Miedzinski said Wednesday she was excited and ready to start the school year.


“I think I was so excited just to announce ‘Welcome to Mother Catherine Academy,’ just to say the words and open those doors,” Miedzinski said.


Students filed into the school after a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included the local Knights of Columbus council raising the U.S. flag and leading pre-K through eighth-grade students in prayer.


The Archdiocese of Washington announced in January it would close Mother Catherine Spalding, pointing to budget deficits and declining enrollment during the past five years. The school closed out the school year with 126 students.


Not long after that announcement by the archdiocese, plans were hatched to open a new nonprofit school in the same building. The school is now run not by the archdiocese, but by an independent board of 15 trustees. The school maintains a relationship with the archdiocese and remains connected in terms of the school’s mission, formation and curriculum.


The archdiocese continues to offer tuition assistance to qualifying students. The academy is owned and operated by the board of trustees.


Sophia Williams, 11, said she liked the religious aspect of her school. “I love that we get to learn our journey in faith while still getting the regular academics every kid gets,” she said.


Williams said she would like to see the school stay open another 50 years.


Jared Hutson, 12, said what is special about Mother Catherine is how important the school makes religion. “They expose you to it in a good way,” he said.


On Wednesday, the 141 students in class represented the highest enrollment in five years, school officials said.


Tom Cavanaugh, president of the school’s trustees, said they are “pleased the community has responded so enthusiastically and jumped the enrollment.”


The board has plans to increase enrollment by 10 percent each year for the next four years. The enrollment, he said, exceeds the first year’s goal of 138 students.


Cavanaugh and others attributed enrollment success to community support.


Laurie Parris enrolled her three children into the academy, citing smaller class sizes and the commitment of staff and parents. “I think it’s amazing that they have so much dedication and passion,” Parris, a former Charles County school teacher, said.


Cavanaugh said parents have worked hard and volunteered in many ways as the school was coming together. He pointed to the school’s landscaping as one of the many volunteer projects undertaken.


Nevaeh Proctor, 7, said she was excited about starting school Wednesday and meeting her new teachers. She is also excited about learning new stuff as a second-grader, she said.


Miedzinski said supporters of the school never had any doubt when it came to keeping the school open. “We knew what we had to do. We looked forward and we never looked back,” she said.