A Passyunk Square school will merge with its East Passyunk Crossing neighbor to form a regional parochial institution.
This is the first in a three-part series covering the Blue Ribbon Commission Report on changes affecting local schools.
Friday marked the Feast of the Epiphany, the celebration through which Christians honor the visitation of the Magi to baby Jesus, an event through which the infant gained new companions.
Nearly 24,000 students at 45 elementary and four high schools learned that day they soon will join the lauded child in adding friends, as the Blue Ribbon Commission, an Archdiocese of Philadelphia-appointed entity, released its report on parochial institutions’ future that announced closings and mergers of nine of South Philly’s 10 elementary sites.
Annunciation B.V.M., 1148 Wharton St., guides 225 students — an increase of 55 students since 2005 — but it has demonstrated a pattern of financial deficits. Its subsidy for ’09-’10 — the last year for which the report included figures — reached $32,332, though the parish surplus stood at $207,268.
“It is an overwhelming report,” Principal Regina Tanghe said after Monday’s dismissal.
The official word came after her charges had left for the weekend Friday, so Tanghe needed to address the matter with them, a task that like the commission’s decision to have her site merge with St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, 913 Pierce St., tugged on heartstrings.
Standing in the first-floor hallway of a building filled 45 percent to its capacity, she admitted voicing her emotions has proven difficult.
“Everything is still new,” she said, “and I am trying to digest it.”
The elementary closings, 19 of which will occur in Philadelphia, will affect 20,999 students, with an additional 2,800 secondary learners needing to move, Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools, said at Friday’s press conference at the archdiocese’s pastoral center. Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., can accommodate the elder displaced group, as the archdiocese’s open enrollment policy grants families numerous options.
While the future leaders will surely find another educational haven, their teachers, 1,700, according to the press event, may need to double their amount of prayers, as no distinction, not even seniority, can guarantee a position. Unionized, the secondary instructors will likely fare better. All employees at closing and merging schools will need to reapply, according to the report. Their own future seemed to matter little to Annunciation’s workers as they walked their learners to their guardians.
“This is a sad day,” Anthony N. Piscitelli said as prepared to pick up grandchildren Gabriella Manny and Giovanni Piscitelli, both 4. “I never wanted it to come.”
Then Philadelphia Archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali established the 17-member advisory group in December ’10 to “assure sustainable Catholic education and faith formation of our young people,” Chairman John J. Quindlen said in his summary report. Calling on the opinions of parents administrators and teachers who completed a spring online survey, it looked to find the best means to aid about 68,000 enrolled pupils — a drop of 35,245 learners since ’01.
The group addressed each location’s finances, subsidy figures and enrollment trends, according to the document that was submitted Dec. 27. As tuition alone fails to continue operations, parish subsidies have ballooned to an average of $319,162 per school over the last decade. Demand for assistance increases when enrollment plummets, and 34 of the selected grade schools educate fewer than 200 students. With tuition rates averaging $3,000, the facilities have lost many families to private and tuition-free public charter schools.
With lay personnel occupying most faculty spots, parochial places have witnessed higher operating costs to cover benefits and salaries. The sum of these factors prompted the delegates to unleash their suggestions, which Archbishop Charles J. Chaput authorized.
Chatter among assembled parents and guardians outside Annunciation all contained the same theme of disbelief. Expecting most affected parties to focus exclusively on the sad aspect of parting with schools and welcoming regional replacements, the commission said it recommended its plan “to bolster enrollment and finances, while enhancing educational programs to ensure that the Archdiocese continues to deliver a high-quality Catholic education and faith formation for our area youth in the 21st century.” Its move will include forming a governance model to provide greater oversight and efficiency to the schools’ management, with the Parish Religious Education Programs to receive a boost in educating public school students who come to parishes to receive their sacraments and faith formation.
Strangely, it could turn out that Annunciation children who choose a public school over the regional one on St. Nicholas’ property may end up attending the latter anyway for spiritual preparation. That will not be true, however, for Gabriella, who will not attend kindergarten at the yet-to-be-renamed East Passyunk Crossing location.
“She will likely go to a charter school,” Piscitelli, of the 1100 block of Wilder Street, said.
Annunciation has been a radiant aid for his family, with the 1967 graduate having sent his six children through its doors. He had sensed the school could become a casualty because of dwindling parishioner tallies yet still supposed the site would last. He had felt the St. Nicholas children would come to Annunciation if the Archdiocese acted upon spiraling costs and decreasing rosters and voiced fears the new site will be a victim of traffic congestion.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said it has made its final decisions regarding the closings and consolidations of schools across the city, but community members in Pennsport and Whitman have not yet backed down.
Ava Washington will graduate from St. Gabriel School, 2917 Dickinson St., in June and had felt heartache over her likely fate as a member of the Grays Ferry site’s final commencement.
“As emotional as everything is, you need to avoid coming at it from an emotional stance,” Patricia Cody said after Friday’s dismissal of 293 pupils from Epiphany of Our Lord, 1248 Jackson St.
The name Gabriel derives from Hebrew and translates as “God is my strength.”
A sign displaying “Thanks for the Memories” adorned the school yard at 814 Bigler St., as gold and blue balloons seemed to sway in time with the children’s voices as they sang the school song.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced that all of South Philly's elementary schools with the exception of St. Monica, 16th and Porter streets, will consolidate with at least one other facility to form three regional Catholic schools.
To the Editor: All of the turmoil, heartache and disruption caused by the Blue Ribbon Commission, implemented by retired Archbishop Justin Rigali, in my opinion, was a diversion from the devastating sex crimes committed by these pedophile priests. Did we faithful followers have to be subjected to all the pain and suffering of not knowing the future of our children? Schools closing, regional schools opening — what a disgrace and now everything is back to square one. The upheaval of emotions is horrific.