The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh recently announced the closing of four predominantly African-American schools. The four institutions in the Hill District, Wilkinsburg and Homewood will be reconfigured into two new institutions beginning in the fall 2010 school year.
“It’s kind of the reality of the situation that we’re in here, the declining demographics of the city,” said Father Carmen D’Amico, pastor of Saint Benedict the Moor School. “There’s less and less school-aged children and more and more competition so we’re all competing for a dwindling number of students. I think the consolidation of the schools is a good thing.”
Saint James, Saint Benedict the Moor, Holy Rosary and Saint Agnes are supported in large part by the Extra Mile Foundation, which provides operational funding and scholarships for students. A declining student body in many Extra Mile schools has led to an increase in the cost of operations.
While this increase adds pressure to Extra Mile, it has also raised the cost of tuition for parents, prohibiting some families from sending their children to the schools. Merging the schools will keep costs from rising, improve available resources and activities and allow more students to enroll.
“What we’re looking at is a desire for the program to support that educational mission for the long run. Looking at the demographics of the city and realizing there are other African-American students in other areas that could be helped, they really started a strategic planning process,” said Father Kris Stubna, secretary of Catholic education for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. “We’re actually hoping to add more schools. We haven’t made decisions as to where, but there are other areas where if students receive scholarships, they might actually be able attend these schools.”
Extra Mile also provides scholarships for students in the Scholars Program at Good Shepherd School in Braddock and the Cardinal Wright Regional School on the North Side. The reconfiguration will allow the foundation to extend scholarships to families in other areas.
In Fall 2010 Holy Rosary School in Homewood will close and be merged with St. James School in Wilkinsburg. Although the new school will be housed in the St. James building the school will be renamed.
“For any of us there’s always a sadness when a building has to close so obviously closing the building in Homewood is not easy,” said Fr. Stubna. “There’s some sadness but there is hope because we are doing something for the long run. I think parents are excited about the possibility of having tuition decrease and other activities.”
St. Agnes and St. Benedict the Moor will not be merged until Fall of 2011. Neither school is large enough to accommodate both student bodies and one of the buildings will have to undergo renovations.
“One of the great lesson is we’ve always tried to affirm and assert the children’s African-American heritage and it’s a good thing that that will be continuing because the site will continue to be in the Hill District,” said Fr. D’Amico.