Archdiocese of Washington Considers New Framework for Catholic Education in Its Center City Schools

Proposal for New Structure to Sustain Excellent Education for Students in the Center City; Schools to Undergo Extensive Consultation Before Decision is Made

September 08, 2007

The Archdiocese of Washington is considering a new framework for education in its 12 center-city schools in the District of Columbia, in keeping with the Archdiocese’s long tradition and mission of providing and supporting quality education for the city’s children. More than 7,700 students attend 28 Catholic schools in the city, 21 of which are operated by the Archdiocese.

The proposal involves 12 Archdiocesan parish schools now grouped together as the Center City Consortium. Under the proposal, the Archdiocese would continue to operate four of these schools as part of a new Catholic school consortium. The other eight schools would move under the umbrella of a charter school operator approved by, but independent of, the Archdiocese of Washington. In addition, a parish whose school is a part of the Consortium would have the opportunity to explore running its school as a stand-alone, parish-supported Catholic school or in conjunction with a neighboring parish.

No schools would close under this proposal. The children would be able to continue receiving their academic program next year at the same school locations. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl has requested that the proposal undergo broad and extensive consultation before a final decision is made in late October.

In 1997, the Center City Consortium was created by the Archdiocese of Washington to bring new resources and focus to eight struggling schools in some of the District’s most financially-challenged neighborhoods. These schools were facing declining enrollment, rising costs and aging physical plants. Additional schools were added to the Consortium over time; it now includes 12 schools serving 2,200 children, 75 percent of whom are non-Catholic.

Over the past ten years, the Archdiocese and its donors have invested $60 million to support curricula and professional development, tuition assistance and facility improvements in the Consortium schools. This investment led to excellent academic achievement, but enrollment continued to decline, dropping by at least 20 percent in most of the schools. This decrease was due in part to an ongoing decline in the city population and the development of an extensive and free public charter school system, which now includes 79 charter schools educating 28 percent of the city’s public school students.

The impact of these factors, as well as rising costs at individual schools, has substantially increased the overall cost of maintaining the Consortium as it stands today. The deficits now average $7 million annually and are growing. If no changes are made to the make-up of the Consortium, the additional cumulative deficit over the next five years is projected to be in excess of $50 million.

In light of this changing landscape, a team of 40 people, including parents, principals, pastors and experts in education, theology, finance and business, undertook the study of the Center City Consortium schools. Based on these findings, it was clear that the current 12-school Consortium is not sustainable.

“The priority of everyone involved in developing the study and recommendation was to provide the children with continuity, stability and access to an excellent education that is sustainable into the future. In light of the changing dynamics facing our schools, we recognize we cannot continue maintaining all of the schools. The presence of an extensive charter school movement in the District has brought new options for families that were not available ten years ago and allows us to continue to ensure that the students, most of whom are not Catholic, will receive an excellent education,” said Mr. Thomas Burnford, Secretary of Catholic Education.

The new proposed framework for education, developed in light of the study results and in consultation with staff, the Archdiocesan Administrative Board and the Priest Council, will undergo extensive consultation with as many people as possible, including the archdiocesan Board of Education, Pastoral Council and Finance Council, as well as pastors, parents, staff and parish and school advisory councils of the involved schools, before a final decision is made.

“The Archdiocese has a long tradition of supporting quality education for the city’s children and we remain committed to that mission,” said Archbishop Wuerl. “I am grateful to all those who participated in the study and in developing the recommendation and I look forward to the input from parents and the parish and school communities.”

The consultations will take place over the next two months. A decision by Archbishop Wuerl is expected by late October.

The schools proposed for a new Catholic consortium are:

• Sacred Heart School, NW
• St. Anthony School, NE
• St. Francis Xavier School, SE
• St. Thomas More School, SE

The schools proposed for a new values-based charter school group are:

• Assumption School, SE
• Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian School, SE
• Holy Name School, NE
• Immaculate Conception School, NW
• Nativity Catholic Academy, NW
• St. Augustine School, NW (Please note: St. Augustine is exploring the option of running its school as a parish-supported Catholic school)
• St. Francis de Sales School, NE
• St. Gabriel School, NW

Learn more here.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]