April 16, 2010

Archdiocese gets OK to create two charter schools

Criterion staff report

The archdiocese recently received approval to create two charter schools in Indianapolis—a move that will make it the first Catholic diocese in the United States that has committed to overseeing a school involved in this educational approach.

The approval on April 5 by the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Marion County also ensures that the archdiocese will continue its wide-ranging commitment to educating children in economically challenged, urban areas of Indianapolis.

When the 2010-11 school year opens in August, St. Anthony Catholic School and St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy will become charter schools. While they will still be managed by the archdiocese, they will have to change their names and they will no longer be able to promote the Catholic faith during school hours.

The two schools are currently part of the six schools that form the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies—a consortium of schools created by the archdiocese to focus on educating students in urban areas of Indianapolis.

The other four schools in the consortium—Central Catholic School, Holy Angels School, Holy Cross Central School and St. Philip Neri School—will continue as Catholic schools.

“Many urban Catholic schools are closing across the nation, and we did not want to leave the students or communities we currently serve,” said Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, vicar general of the archdiocese. “Through this transformation, an urgent and unmet need within urban Indianapolis will be filled.”

Economic realities forced the archdiocese to consider the charter school approach. On one level, the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies have been operating in a deficit every year, according to archdiocesan officials. On a second level, Church officials say, recent difficult economic times have made it hard for families at these schools to pay the tuition.

In the charter school arrangement, the archdiocese will receive about $7,500 per student from the State of Indiana. In August, the archdiocese hopes to have 185 students from kindergarten to grade seven at the site of the St. Andrew & St. Rita Catholic Academy. At the St. Anthony Catholic School location, there will be room for 141 students from kindergarten to grade six. The two charter schools will be free to attend.

Fundraising dollars that were previously used at those two schools will be shifted to the other four Mother Theodore Catholic Academies schools.

“I’m pleased that this will allow us to continue serving children in the neighborhoods of all six schools the Academies currently serve,” said Connie Zittnan, the director of the Mother Theodore Catholic Academies. “I’m also pleased it will allow us to be able to extend our reach into these two neighborhoods on a broader scale since these two schools will be tuition-free.”

Before the two schools open as charter schools in August, a number of changes and considerations will have to be addressed, Zittnan noted.

One major change has already been made. The archdiocese has formed a separate corporation—ADI Charter Schools Inc.—to oversee the two schools to ensure that all aspects of their governance and operational activities conform to state and federal laws.

“ADI Charter Schools Inc. will prepare students for high school and life after graduation,” said Holly McKiernan, a board member of ADI Charter Schools Inc.

The two schools will also have to be renamed. Input from parents at the two schools will be sought in naming the schools, Zittnan said. She also noted that other people in the community can submit possible names for the schools by using the Web site www.ADIcharterschools.org.

All administrators, teachers and staff members at the two schools will have to reapply for their positions. A “head of school”—the charter schools’ term for principal—will also have to be hired for each school.

Religious symbols and references will have to be removed from the two schools, Zittnan said. But she added that both parishes have already committed to providing optional faith formation classes for the students—either before or after the regular school hours.

“These schools will also have their own yearly calendar,” Zittnan said. “They will be in session 10 more days. That’s one of the opportunities we were offered when we chose to make these schools charter schools. We’ll have the additional financial ability to offer our children 10 more days of instruction. In many cases, our children need that time to master grade-level standards.”

The approval of the charter schools marks another key development in a process that began in March of 2009 when Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and other archdiocesan leaders sought the input and opinions of different people and groups, including priests, donors, business leaders, political leaders, the archdiocesan finance council, and parents and staff members at the two affected schools.

“Choices for our students and parents are important, especially when it comes to education,” said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. “I am pleased and honored to fully support the transformation of both St. Anthony and St. Andrew & St. Rita into charter schools, and look forward to the quality of education the schools will provide.”

“It’s taken us an entire year to get here,” Zittnan said. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the larger community.” †

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