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Carroll, Howard parents increase pressure for new Catholic high school


Gaile Waldhauser learned obedience in Catholic school, but she says it will take assertiveness to open a new school.

Ms. Waldhauser is among a group of parents trying to open a new Catholic high school in southern Carroll and northern Howard counties. It is the first serious attempt since the 1960s in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which experienced declining school enrollment during the 1970s and 1980s and a steady increase the past four years.

The Carroll and Howard county parents started working in 1993 on the idea, but they put plans on hold last spring at the request of archdiocesan officials who wanted to commission a feasibility study. The study has yet to be done.

"Then I open the Catholic Review," Ms. Waldhauser said. Last month, she read in the newspaper that a group of Columbia parents will be opening Woodmont Academy, a privately run Catholic school for kindergartners through eighth-graders, in the fall -- and with the archdiocese's blessing.

The school will be in the Baltimore County section of Woodstock, near the Howard County line and a few miles south of the Carroll County line.

"I went ballistic," she said.

She was happy for the parents, who had pursued their goal even when archdiocesan officials were not receptive, Ms. Waldhauser said. And she was angry.

"I'm glad they got the sanction, but what I'm angry about is I feel stupid. We've been doing everything the way they [archdiocesan officials] wanted it to be, so we could get the sanction. These parents [at Woodmont] said, 'Fine, we'll do it ourselves.' " she said.

"It's just proof we could have plowed ahead and we could have gotten the high school up and running by now. And we could have gotten the sanction anyway."

A spokesman for the division of schools said Superintendent Ronald J. Valenti and the four assistant superintendents were all on vacation.

As a result of the Woodmont school opening, Ms. Waldhauser said, she and the other parents trying to start a high school took a more assertive stance with the archdiocese and got it to agree to hire an agency to conduct the feasibility study.

They will meet with Dr. Valenti Aug. 16 to step up efforts to do the study, meet with area priests and parents.

"They have gotten off their hind," Ms. Waldhauser said. "This Woodmont thing has been good. It really got people upset."

Ms. Waldhauser had met with the Woodmont parents two years earlier and talked with the archdiocesan officials, who seemed to view the parents as mavericks. She said she was told by several archdiocese staff members as recently as last year that the school wouldn't be officially recognized by them.

Lisa Klose, director of marketing for the Division of Schools, said she was not involved yet with the new school, but confirmed that rising enrollment has the division looking at new schools. Two more parent groups in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties have since begun to ask for a new high school.

"A lot of schools in those areas have waiting lists," Ms. Klose said. She had no figures on waiting lists for the 22 high schools in the archdiocese, but said elementary school waiting lists last year were 161 in Carroll County, 705 in Howard County and 563 in Baltimore County. Those numbers probably are higher by now, she said.

Ms. Waldhauser, who lives in the Howard County section of Sykesville, sends her daughter, Krista, to fourth grade at Holy Family School in Randallstown. She's hoping the high school will ready long before Krista begins ninth grade.

"The kids are still growing here -- they're not waiting," she said.

Dr. Valenti has said he was excited by the Carroll-Howard parents' initiative to start a school, but said the archdiocese would not be able to help financially.

No matter, Ms. Waldhauser said. One parent on the committee is an investment specialist who is devising a way to sell bonds to pay for a school. Another parent who attends St. John Catholic Church in Westminster said he has fellow parishioners asking him when and where they can donate.

"We have to turn down money," Ms. Waldhauser said.

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