The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Grades 1-5 cut with low enrollment at All Saints Catholic Academy

 

June 26, 2019

By TOM LAVENTURE

tlaventure@yourdailyglobe.com

Ironwood — Citing a lack of enrollment, All Saints Catholic Academy will reduce its curriculum to preschool and kindergarten for the 2019-20 school year.

Parents of children attending the Pre-K through fifth grade school were informed of the class reduction in a June 7 letter. Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church published the announcement in the June 16 church bulletin.

“We cannot offer any grades above kindergarten,” said Emily Lightfoot, lead teacher, in the letter to the parents. She could not be reached by phone.

There were 32 students enrolled this past year from pre-school through fifth-grade at the school. There are 27 enrolled so far for the next school year but only four students in grades 1-4.

In a June 16 letter in the church bulletin, the Rev. Robb Jurkovich, former pastor of Our Lady of Peace, said the low enrollment led to Lightfoot and himself making the decision to not offer elementary school grades next year.

“With these low numbers, we are not able to cover our expenses to continue to offer these grade levels at All Saints,” Lightfoot’s letter continued. “It is our hope, that given greater interest and enrollment in the future we will be able to reopen these grade levels.”

All Saints Academy will continue offering childcare, including for infants and toddlers, and there are 17 children enrolled in the 3 to 4 year-old preschool program for full time and half day services. There are 10 children enrolled in a combined 4K and kindergarten classroom.

The letter from Jurkovich said this is not a school closing. Pre-school, 4K and kindergarten are all considered school grades and there is a commitment to add upper grade levels when there are students to fill them, he said.

Jurkovich said in the letter that to point fingers at causes for the student decline would be an endless discussion. He did attribute some of the reason to a declining population and a general “erosion of faith that has taken place over the last 50 years or so.”

“For now, we will cater to the current needs of the area, which is infant-toddler through kindergarten,” Jurkovich said in the letter. “It is in those age levels that people are willing to pay for good care and schooling and it is there where we have waiting lists.”

Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette, and Mark Salisbury, superintendent of diocesan schools, both supported but did not assert influence, Jurkovich said. It was entirely a parish decision, he said.

“Father Rob assessed a sad situation and decided he had to make the call,” Salisbury said. “But it was the right call for the time and there is hope that the student base will grow and that grades will be added as they move up.”

There are nine Catholic schools in the Upper Peninsula, Salisbury said. Enrollment overall has decreased about 8% over 10 years.

A growing enrollment at Holy Name Catholic School, a preschool through eighth-grade school with 334 students in Escanaba, has resulted in a capital campaign to add grades 9-12 by the 2021-22 school year, he said. This would be the first Catholic high school in the U.P. in nearly 40 years, he said.

“You get a sense of real life in some of these schools, and it’s positive and exciting,” Salisbury said.

All Saints in Ironwood is a smaller school that is experiencing a downward trend in enrollment, he said.

“That’s not good when you can’t afford a teacher salaries and the rest of the expenses with those numbers,” Salisbury said.

The future hope for All Saints Academy is to keep growing the pre-school and kindergarten programs and to have more of those families express a desire to continue on to Catholic school for the elementary grades, he said.

Private school tuition was not a factor in families choosing not to attend All Saints Academy, Salisbury said. Parents do sacrifice in providing tuition but there is also parish and benefactor support through scholarships so that no student is turned away for financial need, he said.

Parish volunteers are also crucial for the schools to function as are parish fundraising campaigns to support operational costs, he said.

It’s important to offer faith-based education options in communities, Salisbury said. It is statistically proven that children who attend Catholic schools in elementary, middle or high school years are more likely to go on practicing their faith as adults, he said.

“We know that it works from a faith point of view,” he said. “It’s good for a community to have options.”

Public education doesn’t meet the wants and needs of all students and parents, and that is one reason there is homeschooling, he said.

“I think having a faith based education in any community is a super important asset,” he said.

Other private religious schools in the area include Northwoods Christian Academy in Hurley connected to the Range Community Bible Church and Bluff View Christian School in Bessemer, associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

 
 

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