In Forest Park, and throughout Cook County, each of the Catholic elementary schools managed by the Archdiocese of Chicago will remain open for the coming school year.
The announcement was made early last week by the archdiocese office and marks the first time in 45 years that it hasn’t closed or consolidated one of its 217 elementary schools in Lake and Cook counties. At St. Bernardine’s School on Elgin Avenue, administrators have known for several months that they would have a job to return to, but as with many Catholic schools in the region, each year is fraught with uncertainty.
“Should we be embarrassed by this or joyful?” Susan Burritt, a spokesperson for the archdiocese said. “I guess a little bit of both.”
Last year, archdiocese Superintendent Nicholas Wolsonovich and his staff closed only two schools. However, in 2005, 18 schools were shuttered. Wolsonovich is responsible for 257 elementary and high schools.
Here in Forest Park, administrators at St. Bernardine’s are working to pull the school out of a period of declining enrollment and financial hardship. For the current school year, St. Bernardine’s hit its enrollment projection of 125 students, but has leaned heavily on its financial reserves and fundraising efforts to stay afloat. In 2005-06, the school had slightly more than 150 students. Next year, school officials are hoping to expand their student body.
“We’re budgeted for 140 students and hopefully we’ll reach that,” Principal Eleanor Kraft said.
Things are looking up for the nearly century old institution. Aside from targeting modest increases in enrollment, the school hired a new principal who will take office this summer. Kraft came out of retirement to lead the staff on an interim basis after former principal Larry White resigned in May 2006. This coming July, Zenza Laws will take over administrative duties at St. Bernardine’s.
The decision to keep all of its elementary schools open is based in part on positive thinking, according to Wolsonovich. Overall, the schools are still anticipating a dip in enrollment of 4.5 percent for the coming year. It’s possible that by choosing not to consolidate its resources a backlash of school closings could occur in the coming years.
“If that happens it happens,” Wolsonovich said. “We’re taking the high road here.”
The superintendent said he’s optimistic that families will pick up on the message that administrators have confidence in the Catholic schools.