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At Risk for Closure, St. Theresa School 'Shocked,' but 'Optimistic'

The Briarcliff Manor Catholic school is one of five in Westchester County that may close in 2013.

Briarcliff Manor's St. Theresa School community did not give itself much time to panic after learning Monday it is on the Archdiocese of New York's list of "at-risk" schools for 2012-13.

"After the initial shock wore off, it was just a matter of what we need to do to mobilize," said Donna Sutton, the Catholic school's principal.

St. Theresa School has been open at its quiet Dalmeny Road location since 1965, currently serves 147 students and has just over 20 employees.

This week, the Archdiocese's "local boards" and ad hoc Reconfiguration Committee announced 26 of the area's 159 elementary schools "are at-risk of closure in June 2013."

In Westchester County, Our Lady of Fatima in Scarsdale, Holy Name of Jesus in Valhalla, Our Lady of Assumption in Peekskill and St. Casimir in Yonkers were also labeled at-risk.

Last year, St. Ann's Parish School in Ossining was shut down.

"We already had an action plan—a strategic plan we had been using to make some improvements in terms of finances and enrollment and so on," Sutton said of the announcement.

Additionally, the school has raised $150,000 just this week from supportive families, parishioners of St. Theresa Church, benefactors and alumni. Some families have even paid next year's tuition in advance.

Nicole Hallinan, president of St. Theresa's Home School Association, said she has been flooded with calls from people who want to help out.

"I am on the phone all the time," she said. "People are calling asking, 'What can I do? How can I help?' It really is heartwarming."

Hallinan added the flood of support "is not surprising" given "the sense of family" at the school.

"The church has supported us all these years," Sutton pointed out. "We never asked for a penny from the Archdiocese. I think that says a lot right there in terms of how our parish community really has supported us."

According to a statement from the Archdiocese, the scrutiny of the region's schools is part of "Pathways to Excellence, the strategic plan for Catholic schools published in October 2010 and developed to assure a vibrant future for Catholic education. Under that plan, most parish elementary schools will align into geographic regions governed by the Boards."

A parent of a fourth grader and pre-kindergartner at St. Theresa's, Hallinan is also an alumna of the school herself.

"It was really a sad moment and realization that the experience I had at St. Theresa School—it could be that there are children who aren't going to be able to have that experience," she reflected. "St. Theresa is really community-based. When you walk through the doors as a new parent, you leave the same day feeling like you made friends."

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The Archdiocese's plan centers around the "regionalization" of its schools, which is anticipated to be a more fiscally viable model.

"Today’s regionalization process builds on the actions taken two years ago to improve the fiscal health of the Archdiocese of New York and will help ensure that all our schools will remain financially stable and, more importantly, open to all students," Dr. Timothy J. McNiff, superintendent of schools, said in a statement.

The decisions about the affected schools were made by based on "enrollment, financial, academic and local demographics," according to the Archdiocese.

"The long-term goal of regionalization is to maintain sustainable, excellent local school options for families wishing a Catholic education," the statement said.

In the first week of January, the 26 schools on the list will present their financial plans to the Archdiocese for review. The boards and committees will work with the Archdiocese to offer final decisions for each schools that same month.

"We are just going to tweak [our existing plan] to address the financial issues and enrollment issues," said Sutton. "I am very confident that St. Theresa will remain open."

Sutton is in her second year at St. Theresa School and joined after her former school—Sacred Heart of Jesus School—was shut down.

"It has definitely prepared me in terms knowing what we are up against and the timeline," she asserted.

Sutton said some families have already pledged their interest in attending St. Theresa School next year and the school is pursuing "a more aggressive marketing campaign" to further regional awareness.

With the community's support, "rigorous academics" and "family environment," Sutton said confidently, "We can definitely achieve the goal."

Honora Firth-Jones December 01, 2012 at 06:56 PM
What I don't understand is why would the Archdiocese close these schools down BEFORE they set up regionalized schools?
John L December 11, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Another bad decision by the Archdiocese. Then again its not like the catholic schools in the area were doing much to fund raise or even coming close to establishing business ties in the community to raise any funds. Its always left to the last minute when all hope is gone.

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