Debate surrounds need for Catholic high school


'TC A Sykesville mother says she doesn't need a feasibility study to know there's a demand for a new Catholic high school in southern Carroll or northern Howard County.

But the Archdiocese of Baltimore does need a study, because there is just as loud a cry for an elementary school as for a high school, said Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of education for the archdiocese.

A parent meeting Sept. 26 will be one step in figuring out what to do, Dr. Valenti said.

"We have to make sure the impetuosity for the building is tempered by the reality, and it's a well-studied, thought-out plan," said Dr. Valenti, adding that the school should be one that will provide at least 10 years of service.

Principals and pastors from the area already have met. Eleven parishes are represented on a planning committee of lay people, clergy and educators. After all these meetings, the planning committee may conduct further surveys with a consultant, Dr. Valenti said.

The move by Gaile Waldhauser of Sykesville and parents from the other parishes is the first serious effort to open a Catholic high school in the archdiocese since the 1960s. Simultaneous efforts have begun in Frederick and Anne Arundel counties. Enrollment in Catholic schools declined through the 1970s and 1980s, but it has increased steadily this decade.

"We do have a demographic study, and statistics say we're going to experience a real growth in the area up to the year 2015," Dr. Valenti said.

The parents' meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at St. Paul-Resurrection School on North Chatham Road in Ellicott City.

"The whole thing is to inform parents of the school and for [the archdiocese] to see how many people are really interested in it," Ms. Waldhauser said. "It's very important we have a good turnout."

Ms. Waldhauser and other families from St. Joseph Catholic Community in Sykesville first met more than two years ago to consider starting an elementary school. But after initial discussions, she said, they decided they really wanted a high school.

Carroll and Howard counties do not have a Catholic high school. Students who want a Catholic school travel 45 minutes to an hour to schools in Baltimore, Frederick and Pennsylvania.

Ms. Waldhauser and several other parents send their children to elementary and middle school at Holy Family in Randallstown. A group of Howard County parents this fall started Woodmont Academy, a Catholic elementary and middle school, in the Baltimore County section of Woodstock, near the Howard and Carroll county lines.

Still, Dr. Valenti said he has been hearing from parents who want an elementary school, and there are waiting lists at nearly all of the Catholic elementaries in Carroll and Howard counties.

"We can't build both," he said.

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