The Archdiocese of Baltimore will close 73-year-old Holy Rosary School in Fells Point this year as part of a plan to restructure schools troubled by changing demographics and economics in Southeast Baltimore.
Five other schools will remain autonomous, but will be put under a volunteer board and a paid "regional provost" who will consolidate some services and direct innovations, the archdiocese announced yesterday. It said the schools will be renamed academies to give them a "fresh start."
Holy Rosary, with only 80 students in a school built for 600, will close at the end of this school year. The South Chester Street elementary is the first archdiocesan school closed since St. Cecilia in West Baltimore in 1992.
The plan was outlined in a news conference last night after Cardinal William H. Keeler and other archdiocesan officials announced their decisions to representatives of the six schools in the Southeast Baltimore Catholic Education Project.
In addition to Holy Rosary, the affected schools are: Bishop John Neumann on Foster Avenue, Father Kolbe on Kenwood Avenue, Our Lady of Fatima on East Pratt Street, St. Elizabeth on North Lakewood Avenue and Our Lady of Pompei, which has an elementary and a high school at its South Conkling Street site.
Many of those at the meeting at Our Lady of Fatima were relieved that the study was over. Others were excited about the plans for a central administration for the remaining schools.
And some were just sad.
"I'm third-generation Holy Rosary," said a somber Mike Polek of Dundalk, president of Holy Rosary's parent association. "My son is fourth; my grandchild is fifth. It's tough, but it just seemed like it was inevitable."
Keeler, too, was bittersweet about his decisions.
"Today, I announced also a very hard decision -- one that I know the committee wrestled with and so did I. Holy Rosary will close," said the cardinal.
At the same time, he was enthusiastic about the structure of the remaining schools and said he thought it would bring "continued community stability and make excellent schools even better."
Last night's announcement was the culmination of 10 months of work by a committee of principals, pastors, teachers and parents from the six schools, which except for Pompei have students from kindergarten through eighth grade. They studied finances, enrollments, programs and the facilities of each school.
"The committee went through a really tough process. You had teachers and parents making recommendations about their own schools and the schools of the people sitting across the table," said archdiocesan spokesman Bill Blaul.
The committee recommended closing a second school, Our BTC Lady of Pompei Elementary, but the cardinal chose not to, thinking that enrollment could be built there, Blaul said.
Holy Rosary, once a bustling school filled with Polish children who lived nearby, saw its enrollment slide 52 percent in the past five years, and was forced to cut its full-time teaching staff to four and put two grades in each classroom.
Even after Holy Rosary is closed, the five other schools will have 200 to 300 empty seats among them, Blaul said. "Our mission over the next three academic years is to fill up those remaining seats."
That mission will get a jump-start next week when the archdiocese announces a new corporate gift program that will provide at least $2 million in tuition assistance for city parochial schools. Last month, the Abell Foundation announced a program to provide free tuition at St. Elizabeth's to families that buy houses in the Patterson Park area.
The new board will centralize purchasing, fund-raising and other services and perhaps provide for shared resources that any one school could not afford, said archdiocesan Superintendent Ronald J. Valenti. Each school will continue to have a principal accountable to him, as they are now. The provost, who will report to Valenti, will be temporary, hired to get the system moving quickly, Blaul said.
Pub Date: 1/17/97