In Part 1 I discussed progress in starting a new growth pattern within St. Michael Catholic School, in Kindergarten and then hopefully in subsequent years in grades 1-6, as the "bulge" in enrollment works its way up and is sustained. Now I'd like to offer a few thoughts on a similar, though in some ways much more challenging, initiative to add grades 7 and 8.
A few months ago, our Pastor indicated that we would be adding 7th grade in the 2008-09 school year, and then 8th grade the year after that. I believe this was a combination of vision and challenge offered to our parish, and I do hope that we respond positively to both. His effort should be considered all the more bold, since there has already been an attempt to expand with the last few years. At this point in time a lot of effort will have to happen for this vision will come to fruition; as in Part 1, I would urge everyone to support our parish and School to make this a reality. The challenges associated with expanding our School include facilities, faculty and the value equation (will parents pay the required tuition to stay in StMCS through 8th grade?). And there are others too, of course.
A committee to put together the pieces of the puzzle is forming, led by our Principal, and already some great ideas have emerged to maximize the current building space, to accommodate the growth I mentioned above, through the next 3-4 years. The faculty plan will simply have to come from folks who know about education and are willing to help the Principal and School. Among the other issues to be resolved is the logistics of getting more kids through the school day (getting them on buses, into lunch, the gym, etc) and again committed volunteers & teachers will provide the solutions.
The value equation is perhaps the hardest part to nail down, mainly because it's a combination of objective and subjective criteria. Mainly families simply can't afford up to nine years per child, at $2,500+ a pop, a completely real and understandable barrier. To those parents I would recommend having a frank discussion with our Pastor or Principal, about need-based scholarships. Even if a family could eke out the funds, is it worth it? Especially when the very good public school has already been paid for through taxes... Valid question! Then there are the other subjectives: class size, dress code, Catholicity of the staff, etc. How much do they contribute, or detract, from the preparation of life we are giving our children? Again, good questions, but I just have to say that all of those things DO make a difference, and in St. Michael the results are self-evident!
Of course, Catholic school does not guarantee a robust & faith-filled future, any more than the lack thereof condemns a student to fall away from the Church later in life. In fact, in St. Michael we are doubly blessed with traditions of both a great School AND a wonderful religious education program. However, having heard many adults discuss the value of their formal Catholic education, or lament the lack of one, I am firmly convinced it's worth pushing forward to expand our School. I believe we have a responsibility to properly teach our children, not just the academics but how to be good Christian citizens.
To borrow from the old Porsche slogan, "Catholic education: There is no substitute."
Please pray for our School, and consider volunteering your skills and insights to helping us maintain our K-6 program as well as expand to 7th and 8th!