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Rev. Francis M. Vella

placeholder February 6, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA

Families at St. Martin de Porres School heard about other school options for their children.

Families hear the what, why and how of school closings

Just four days after learning that St. Martin de Porres Regional School would close at the end of the school year, families of pupils attending the Oakland school, gathered Jan. 23 to hear what happened, why and what will happen next after the announcement the diocese will close five schools.

"We are absolutely heartbroken that this school is going to close," Rev. Aidan McAleenan, pastor at Oakland's St. Columba Parish, told dozens of school families that gathered at Sacred Heart Church, adjacent to the school. He explained the school administration, headed by Hollis Pierce-Jenkins, president, and Dara Northcroft, principal, as well as the school board, had been working diligently to keep the school open despite deep financial struggles and low enrollment.

Noting that the school board had been wrestling over the past 12 to 18 months with issues involving the school's long-term sustainability, Father McAleenan said the group had worked out a proposal in monthly board meetings and with the help of special committees. Key in the proposal was the formation of a new network of Catholic schools facing similar financial and enrollment struggles. Together the schools would work on reducing expenses and develop ways to increase fundraising to help families who could not afford to pay the full cost of tuition.

The board sent the letter outlining the "last ditch" proposal in November to Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, and Rev. Larry Young, interim school superintendent, hoping to keep alive the school's chances of survival.

But the "bottom line is that we couldn't pay the bills," said the priest, as his voice cracked with emotion. "We did our best, but it was not good enough."

Noting that "we are all grieving," Pierce-Jenkins reminded the families that despite its financial problems, the students nonetheless flourished with a strong academic program. The school delayed its celebration of Catholic Schools Week in order to help families through this transition. During an open house, which will be held at a date to be announced, the school will celebrate what the students have learned during the year, Northcroft said.

During the meeting both educators provided families with information of nearby Catholic, public and charter schools they may wish to research as well as application deadlines they will need in order to get their children signed up for the 2017-2018 school year. Families with specific questions or concerns about a school or schools in the area were asked to submit the names of their child or children.

St. Martin de Porres School was established in 1996 and was the result of the merger of Sacred Heart, St. Patrick and St. Columba schools. Grades Kindergarten to five meet on the Sacred Heart campus; grades six to eight meet on the campus of St. Patrick School, Oakland. Plans to open a pre-K at the St. Columba site did not materialize. Today the former St. Columba School is the site of a bilingual Mandarin-English charter school that has a multi-ethnic student population.

In addition to St. Martin de Porres, four other elementary schools in the diocese are slated to close at the end of the school year. They are: St. Lawrence O'Toole School and St. Jarlath School, both in Oakland; Our Lady of the Rosary School in Union City; and St. Jerome School in El Cerrito.

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