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By Kim Suminski

The recent school closing announcement by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo was met with a great deal of emotion by parents, students and teachers. These difficult choices of the diocese are an unfortunate reality as most Catholic schools across our region continue to experience declines in enrollment.

The South Buffalo community has experienced first-hand the impact of Catholic school closings. Our community was once the proud host to seven Catholic elementary schools. Continued shifts in population, mostly to the southern suburbs, and declining enrollment forced the diocese to close the schools; last year two of the remaining three Catholic schools closed, leaving Notre Dame Academy as the sole Catholic elementary school in South Buffalo.

As with this round of closings, emotions ran deep for those with strong bonds to their South Buffalo schools. After the dust settled and emotions calmed, school principals, teachers, parents and community leaders began working together on developing solutions for the impacted students and their families.

With Notre Dame Academy being the lone Catholic elementary school, we implemented a cooperative community outreach effort to make the transition for those parents who desired to continue their child’s Catholic education in South Buffalo as seamless as possible under difficult circumstances.

The community’s combined efforts brought together families from several South Buffalo neighborhoods who today are now part of the larger Notre Dame community. Our thriving school with 480 students is viewed as a model for the Catholic Diocese in its overall school revitalization plan.

The success of our community’s collaborative efforts focused on Catholic education has now gone well beyond the elementary school level and has resulted in the recent formation of the Catholic Education Partners of South Buffalo. The mission of this partnership is to increase enrollment at member schools by promoting South Buffalo as a community where students can obtain a second-to-none Catholic education from pre-school through college and career in an area with a very high quality of life for young families.

With the significant support of South District Council Member Christopher Scanlon and the collaborative efforts of the partners, including Notre Dame Academy, Mount Mercy Academy, Bishop Timon-St. Jude, Trocaire College and Mercy Hospital, we will work aggressively in the coming months to increase awareness in the larger community that Catholic education is alive and well in South Buffalo and the doors of our schools and our community are open to all children and their families.

Kim Suminski is principal of Notre Dame Academy.