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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 4, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
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Alameda's St. Barnabas School
to close in June

A Catholic school consolidation is underway on the island community of Alameda. St. Barnabas will cease operations in June 2008, after a half century of providing Catholic education to several generations of western Alameda children.

Richard Kruska, diocesan superintendent of schools, said that Alameda’s two remaining parochial schools — St. Joseph and St. Philip Neri — will absorb St. Barnabas’ 80 youngsters.

Kruska attributed the school’s demise to two factors: a steadily declining enrollment triggered by the closing of Alameda Naval Base in the early 1990s and the high cost of living in the Bay Area.

Father Tony Herrera, parochial administrator at St. Barnabas, said the enrollment drop is a trend paralleled in local public schools. At St. Barnabas enrollment has declined from 198 during the 2001-2002 school year to the current 80.
CNS/Emily Thompson

During this time, the parish has been financially supporting its school, hoping that an anticipated planned residential development on the Alameda Naval Base would be completed and attract a large influx of families. But progress on the proposed Alameda Point project has not moved as quickly as originally anticipated, dashing hopes of keeping St. Barnabas School viable and thriving.

Kruska said that the low enrollment coupled with some families’ inability to pay full tuition has meant that the parish and the diocese were making up the difference between school income and costs.

Father Herrera said that he made the decision to close the school with a “heavy heart.” In a Jan. 18 joint letter to parents, he and principal Terri Kurczewski said, “St Barnabas is a wonderful place . . . we are deeply saddened by the consolidation.”

The timing of the closing is especially poignant. St. Barnabas is set to celebrate its golden jubilee this spring.

Father Herrera and Kurczewski hosted a parent/parish meeting on Jan. 22 in the school hall with Kruska in attendance. The three answered questions and opened a discussion about turning the school’s closing into a celebration of 50 years of ministry to children.

Kim Murphy, a 1975 graduate whose 25-year-old stepson is also a graduate, noted the community spirit at the school. “Everyone stays in touch with one another. We are part of one another’s lives.”

Her 11-year-old daughter feels the same way today about the close-knit spirit at St. Barnabas. “Marissa has always felt comfortable at St. Barnabas. She can’t wait to get to school each day.” Marissa plans to transfer to St. Philip Neri School in the fall. “The faculty and principal have been wonderful about accepting the kids,” Murphy said.

Kurczewski, who came to St. Barnabas in September, said she feels “so blessed to have been here. Everybody really cares about each other.” She praised her 80 students, noting that they “rise to every occasion, both academically and socially.”

Monica O’Callaghan, principal at St. Joseph School, said many St. Barnabas families visited her school during a Jan. 29 Open House. “Our prayers are with all the St. Barnabas families during this transition,” she said.

St. Barnabas is the latest school in the diocese to close in recent years. Since 2004, declining enrollments and financial problems have caused four other schools to shut their doors. In June of 2004, St. Augustine, Sts. Cyril-Louis Bertrand, and St. Paschal Baylon, all in Oakland, ceased operations. In September 2007, St. Joseph the Worker School in Berkeley joined the list of closures.

Throughout the country, there have been more than 500 Catholic school consolidations and closures in the last four years.

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