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Letter to the Editor: St. Charles School Closing Handled Poorly

by ARLnow.com — January 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm 3,314 0

Last week, St. Charles Borromeo Church, near Clarendon, announced that it will be closing its private K-8 school after this school year.

Administrators say the decision is due to low enrollment — only 117 students are currently enrolled at the school, about half of its capacity. Still, parents are upset with the decision, and wondering whether anything could have been done to save the school.

Here’s a letter from one such parent.

My daughter’s school, St. Charles Borromeo in Clarendon, announced suddenly January 13 that it was closing the K-8 portion this June and “restructuring” as an Early Childhood Center.

“So what?” you must be thinking; Catholic schools have been closing at an alarming rate all over the country.

But it’s not that St. Charles Elementary is closing — it’s the process by which it is closing.

We received an email the morning of the 13th that there was an important letter in our child’s backpack for us. I didn’t give the email another thought until I went to pick up my daughter from extended day, when I saw the stricken faces of other parents. I thought maybe that someone in the school community was very ill or had died. Little did I know it was the news of the school closure.

A letter like that should come at the end of a long fight to save your school — after you have done everything you could think of to raise both enrollment and necessary operating funds. Why were parents not even given the opportunity to try?

We were never afforded the respect and dignity to be invited into the process. We were never given financial information or analyses. We were never notified of the warnings that were apparently delivered from the Diocese to the school. We were never rallied and given a goal to try to attain. We were never given a chance to go down swinging.

We were led to believe that everything was fine. We have an active PTO. We have an active enrollment management committee. We have a brand new, engaging, motivated principal who this school year alone brought in 10 new students.

Look — we are not naïve. We understand the economics of private education in this area and the struggles in trying to compete with the fabulous public schools in the region. Maybe in the end, after fighting the good fight, we would not have succeeded. Then we would have been sad to receive the letter, would have licked our wounds, and at least known we did all we could.

But for things to end this way is unacceptable and disrespectful.

In his letter Father Horace H. “Tuck” Grinnell stated “What defeated us in the end was our low enrollment.” I beg to differ. I believe it was a lack of leadership.

So now St. Charles Elementary — the most diverse Catholic elementary school in the diocese and a shining example of Dr. Martin Luther King’s hopes and dreams — is closing. There is no written transition plan, only vague assurances that families will be welcomed with open arms, and current teachers and staff will be given priority for jobs, at other Catholic schools in the area. I only hope this is the case.

I hope the new St. Charles Early Childhood Center will be a success. Those of you in Arlington looking for a preschool would have the joy of working with Principal Angela Rowley and her staff. She is the finest example of Christian love and charity and will educate and care for your children like they were her own. If she can’t make this new center a success, then no one can.

But learn from our situation — demand transparency and participation at all times. Demand accountability from the parish, the superintendent of Catholic schools at the diocese, and from the bishop himself. Maybe then something good will come out of St. Charles Elementary’s untimely and unnecessary death.

In the fall my daughter’s third grade teacher read the class the children’s version of Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea.” On their own the class decided to raise funds for Pennies for Peace, the charity supporting schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They set a goal of $400, and to be honest, I didn’t think there was any way they could raise that amount of money. I thought it would be a great learning experience that sometimes you can’t meet a goal you set.

The kids raised almost $900. Just imagine what their parents could have done for St. Charles Elementary if only we were given the chance.

Kayleen Fitzgerald
Falls Church

To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to arlingtonnews@gmail.com. Letters to the editor may be lightly edited for content and brevity.

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