Kevin Pritchard knows what a lot of Catholic parents are going to go through today.
The North Buffalo parent went through a painful school closing six years ago when his sons’ elementary school, St. Rose of Lima School, shut down.
“It’s going to hurt, there’s no doubt,” Pritchard said. “But at some point, for your children’s sake, you need to reinvest yourself into whatever community you decide to settle in.”
Other parents initially stung by the loss of St. Rose of Lima School also offer a message of hope and optimism amid the sadness and loss – and even some bitterness – that will come with the closings to be announced today.
Parents of Catholic school children throughout Western New York are bracing for sweeping changes that the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo will unveil this afternoon for its elementary education system. The school closures are expected to affect schools throughout the region.
Those who have been through this before offer simple advice: Expect shock and emotion. Bitterness might linger. Friends will scatter. But take time with the search for a new school. Find the right fit. And in the end, while there may be sadness, good things can come from this, too.
“For us, it turned out to be a very good thing in the sense that my daughter made wonderful friends,” said Katie Wolf, whose daughter was in fourth grade at St. Rose of Lima in North Buffalo when it closed in 2007. “We made wonderful friends. I think that the Buffalo community as a whole, it is a great community, and I think that’s what’s going to support it.”
Wolf does not discount the pain parents will feel. She still gets emotional when she talks of St. Rose’s closure. But when her daughter Catherine went through a second closure last year as a student at Holy Angels Academy, Catherine was able to use her prior experience transferring to St. Mark’s in North Buffalo to help her through the transition.
Mount St. Mary Academy Principal Dawn Riggie suggests that parents and students give themselves time – both as they take in the news and as they choose a new school.
“They need to give themselves time to really absorb it. The important thing is to really look around at all the other Catholic schools and find the one that is the very best fit for them, what feels right to them,” said Riggie.
Riggie advises parents to attend open houses and ask questions, but then once they choose a school, to jump right in to parent associations and student clubs.
“Once they’ve made that decision, I think it’s important to get involved and to try to bond as quickly as you can with that school, both for the students and the parents,” Riggie said.
Parents who went through a round of Catholic school closures in 2007 look back at the way the changes impacted their parishes and neighborhoods. At the time, many parents felt frustrated and bitter that they did not have more advance notice or input when schools closed.
Jody Strobele, whose daughter was in fifth grade at St. Agnes when it closed, thought then that the closure would have a devastating impact on the Lovejoy neighborhood. Six years later, she still thinks that it has.
“It’s really emotional, because you’re splitting up a family,” Strobele said. “Because some kids go to public schools, charter schools, a lot of these kids have been together since pre-K.”
She suggests that parents jump right into the search, including having their children write up a list of what they like about their school.
“Don’t waste your energy on fighting the diocese,” Strobele said, “Embrace the change. Get excited about it.”
For years after his sons’ school closed, Pritchard said, his oldest son would ask if it might reopen. But they also found new friends and a new community when they transferred to St. Mark School in North Buffalo.
Pritchard, who served on the School Board at St. Rose of Lima, said he and his wife took a year off from volunteering after the school closed to give themselves time to recoup. But both jumped back in at their new school community – between them, coaching baseball, decorating the gym for dances, fundraising, organizing the cafeteria makeover and serving on a school board – a step he recommends parents take as they enroll children in new schools.
“You just try to find the school and the community that is closest to what you value and then you try to work and make that community better,” Pritchard said.
Rachel Kutas’ son was in first grade when St. Rose of Lima closed. Before she picked a new school, she checked out test scores, academic programs and curricula. She visited three schools before picking St. John the Baptist School in Kenmore, where her son is now in eighth grade.
“It felt like they wanted our kids to be there,” Kutas said.
She also learned a lot from an open-house night at St. Rose in which principals from other schools came and gave presentations.
Wolf recalled how nervous her daughter was when she transferred to St. Mark’s in fifth grade, but she quickly found familiar faces.“We walked into the classroom and she walked in the door and saw somebody from the neighborhood who called her name,” Wolf recalled of that first day at the new school. “And she never looked back.”