News | Morningside Heights

Low enrollment, funding force two local Catholic schools to shut doors

Two Catholic schools that have been in the Morningside Heights area for over 100 years are slated to close this July.

Annunciation School, on 131st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and Holy Name of Jesus, located on 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, are two of 22 elementary schools the Archdiocese of New York marked for closure.

Citing low enrollment and funding, the Archdiocese announced in January that it would shut down 24 schools in its jurisdiction—including five in the Manhattan area.

Yolanda Campbell, whose son is in fifth grade at Holy Name, said she was “devastated.”

“It was hard because I figured he’d be here till eighth grade and then graduate,” Campbell said. “He’s been here for so long, and all of a sudden it just closes.”

According to Campbell, the closure “is going to affect the community in some kind of way because the school has been around for over 100 years.”

Annunciation parent Agustin Blanco also expressed concern.

“I feel bad. I like the school,” Blanco said. “The administration is good, my son likes the school—it’s sad.”

Annunciation parent Nidia Richardson said that parents created a Change.org petition because “it’s only closing because the Archdiocese won’t give more money.”

Liliane Alam, director of finance and administration at Holy Name, said that Holy Name staff and families had one month after learning the school’s at-risk status to appeal the decision and try to raise
$1 million to pull the school out of debt.
The school contacted alumni and benefactors, tried to spread the word through fliers, and looked into fundraising, but did not succeed.

Violet Guillet, a grandmother of two children attending the Holy Name of Jesus School and mother of one of the school’s former valedictorians, said the closures seemed to be “about the almighty dollar and not about the almighty God.”

“What would it have taken to save a school that has never been at risk, that has been here for 107 years?” Guillet said.

Parents at both schools are now looking for other options. Some will continue with Roman Catholic schools in the area, but others are considering charter and public schools. For Jessica Concecion, a parent at Annunciation School, the closure means that her daughter will return to public school.

“I’m very sad,” Concecion said, “because this was her first year and she really liked it. She’ll be sad, and she’ll be OK. She went to public school before.”

Apart from religious education, Catholic schools provide an alternative to unionized teaching and the high-stakes testing emphasized in public schools, according to Jeffrey Henig, chair of the department of education policy and social analysis at Teachers College.

Henig said that charter schools, however, have drawn enrollment away from Catholic schools because with charter schools, “families have an alternative if they want the community aspect and emphasis on order.”

Althea Hickson, a teacher at Holy Name of Jesus who sent one child to Holy Name and has another enrolled, said she would no longer teach and would instead take an administrative job at a school. She also said that she would avoid Catholic schools in the future and send her son to a charter school.

“The only thing we are really being told is that the demographics for the neighborhood are changing and that we are not bringing in the revenue on our own,” Hickson said.

Alam said that students wishing to continue with Catholic schools would be provided for.

“The Archdiocese is very careful to find a place for each child who wants to go to Catholic school—no one child left behind,” Alam said.

Yet, according to Alam, the closure will nonetheless represent a significant change for the neighborhood.

“Everybody is affected,” Alam said. “The school is part of our landscape. To see the children playing on the street, parents dropping off their children in the morning—it is part of the life of the neighborhood.”

news@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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