A year ago, a Catholic education in Bayonne seemed to be a fading dream.
While Marist High School seemed strong with the addition of a new media center and an active recruitment throughout the area, elementary Catholic schools were suffering a contraction when the Archdioceses of Newark decided to combine four schools into one.
Even the old stalwart Holy Family Academy faced its most severe crisis when the Sisters of St. Joseph announced they could no longer afford to run the school and proposed its closure.
A year later, Marist is stronger than ever with new innovative programs for expanding its educational opportunities. The newly formed All Saints Academy is not merely surviving, but thriving as the city’s last remaining Catholic elementary school. Holy Family Academy is about to announce the naming of a new president with and has reached its goal for recruitment of new freshmen in the fall.
Holy Family Academy moves ahead
Leo Hurley, who serves as chairman of the Holy Family Academy board of trustees, said a president of the high school would likely be named within the next week, setting the stage for a dramatic change in behind the scenes operations at the all girls’ Catholic school.
Late last year, the school’s Board of Trustees negotiated a lease agreement with the Sisters of Saint Joseph to operate the school at its current location.
“The most important thing was not just find a president, but to find the right person.” – Leo Hurley
While HFA will continue to operate at the same location and will continue to serve an all girl population, other changes will take place as part of a change of ownership, including the establishment of a Table of Organization or model similar to the current organization at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City.
Hurley said his sole purpose is to make certain that HFA continues on as a Catholic school for girls.
A six-person selection committee apparently has completed a search for the proper person to operate as president, and from that point, the president will work with the trustees to set up operations at the school.
“The most important thing was not just to find a president, but to find the right person,” Hurley said. “I believe we have accomplished that.”
The school currently has 165 students, and Hurley hopes to increase that number by September.
Increasing enrollment in the school is critical since tuition is one of the key sources of revenue for the school. In this regard, the school has reached out to local schools including local All Saints Academy as well as the deacons of local parishes.
But he said in selecting a president to run the school, the trustees must also endow that person with the ability to set up and operate the school, selecting the people he or she needs as well as other matters.
One important position will be that of the principal, since Principal Sister Mary Ellen Ford told the board she will not be staying on.
All Saints Academy is a strong school
Halfway into its first year operating as the sole Catholic elementary school in Bayonne, All Saints Academy appears to be growing stronger.
With a population of about 540 students, the elementary school located on East 13th Street is already tweaking its curriculum with the idea of expanding class offerings as well as technology.
Sister Eileen Jude Wust, principal of ASA, said the central purpose of the school is its faith foundation, although the school also meets the state requirements for core curriculum standards.
But the school is also seeking to make certain that the children and parents have a fulfilling experience.
After six months in operation, the school is moving to increase its foreign language offerings, adding Italian next year to its current offering of Spanish. Sister Eileen said it is the goal to expand language offerings more in the future in order to provide students with some experience in other languages they can expand upon later.
The new school, she said, has enough space to provide all of the essential elements for a quality education, including music, art rooms and a library.
“We have well qualified, certified teachers who choose to be here,” she said.
Over the next year, the school intends to install additional Smart Boards – computer enhanced black boards – and to upgrade its textbooks.
Marist High School goes global
One of the more significant accomplishments for Marist this year was its recently being re-accredited by the Middle States Association Commission on Secondary Schools.
In February 2008, members of the Middle State Association visited the school for three and a half days, interviewing teachers, parents, students, trustees and others while looking over the school facilities and sitting in on classes.
One of the side benefits of preparing this was the schools need to develop a strategic plan, a map for the future that focuses on two areas: to improve overall academic achievement and to give students ownership over their own development.
While the accreditation lasts until Dec. 1, 2015, the plan becomes a kind of road map for the schools, said Brother Steve Schlitte, the principal.
While recruitment of incoming freshman is slightly down from last year, the school hopes to become more attractive through the use of several innovative programs to expand its course offerings.
Yet a significant part of the school’s mission, Brother Steve said, is to allow students to develop the interpersonal skills to succeed.
Marist draws students from a wide geographical area that includes not only Bayonne and Jersey City, but also Newark, Irvington, Orange and other cities.
This year, the population of the school is at 515, slightly above the 500 mark the school likes to maintain.
The school is looking to offer science-based programs this year that will give students an opportunity to explore the medical profession, and will, along with course work, include field experience through volunteer work.
During the next year, Marist intends to use its new medical center to join the global consortium that will allow it to develop a virtual high school, expanding a pilot program it already has in place and, through the use of Internet connections, will allow the school to expand its course offerings. Currently, the school has five students in the pilot program. This new approach will help several groups of gifted and talented students find more and more challenging classes, said Lice Miesnik, assistant principal for academics.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.