Roxbury-South End partnerships aims to provide 'seamless' K-12 Catholic education

BRAINTREE -- A new collaborative partnership between three Catholic schools in the city of Boston seeks to make maintaining a Catholic education from pre-k to college easier and more affordable.

Beginning as early as this year, the Catholic Urban Partnership (CUP) will see graduates of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Mission Grammar School and St. Patrick School, two Catholic primary schools in Roxbury, automatically accepted into Cathedral High School in Boston.

Graduating students who choose to attend Cathedral High School will be able to carry over scholarships and financial aid received during their primary education, helping to create what school administrators are calling a "seamless" transition between the primary and secondary schools.

"Really, what we're able to do is offer a Catholic urban pathway to college success starting at three months old," said Mission Grammar School principal Ali Dutson, speaking to The Pilot Jan. 26. Just last November, Mission Grammar opened a center for infant and toddlers, which Dutson says is already filled to capacity and has a waiting list.

"Having that opportunity for families in the city of Boston is just priceless," she said.

CUP actually first began during the 2014-2015 school year, creating a formal partnership between just Mission Grammar School and Cathedral High School. The partnership grew out of an "organic process," said Dutson, and it worked well -- Mission provides education from pre-k through 6th grade, while Cathedral provides it from 7th through 12th grade.

According to Oscar Santos, head of school at Cathedral High, his school has been in a "pretty extensive" growth model. Over the last five years, the last three of which have seen the existence of CUP, enrollment has increased "about 43 percent," Santos told The Pilot, Jan. 26.

As a result, Cathedral High is currently in the midst of expanding its campus by building an applied learning center, which Santos estimates will provide enough space to accommodate another 100 students.

On Jan. 31, St. Patrick School announced its formal entry into CUP, a move that principal Tiffany Sawyer said she thinks "will help benefit the students because Cathedral has a lot to offer them, like resources that we can't offer here at St. Patrick."

The announcement was bitter-sweet, as Sawyer also informed parents that St. Patrick School, which had served pre-k through grade 8, will no longer be providing a 7th and 8th grade education after this school year, allowing students, instead, to easily transition to Cathedral High School after 6th grade.

However, Sawyer told The Pilot that the school's pre-k program, which just opened last month, has seen "steady enrollment."

In support of CUP, the Catholic Schools Foundation (CSF) announced a $2.5 million contribution to the collaboration. Speaking to The Pilot Jan. 29, CSF executive director Michael Reardon said the financial commitment will help provide scholarship support, marketing support to assist with enrollment and branding, and support for student retention.

"We look at the Roxbury area as a place where Catholic education has a huge impact, and what we saw was three excellent school leaders doing excellent work, and we want to make an investment in those leaders and in those schools," he said, adding that the partnership was really the initiative of the schools.

"For us, this is exactly serving our mission, and we hope it can become a model in working with the superintendent in others areas in the archdiocese," Reardon said.

He said CSF has provided some support to CUP before St. Patrick School joined, but not to the extent of the current investment.

"Now, with St. Patrick joining the Catholic Urban Partnership, we think that Catholic education in this area of the city really has a bright future," he said.

The collaboration will also be receiving support from the Boston Schools Fund, a non-profit started in 2015 by former teacher and Boston resident Will Austin. Currently, the Boston School Funds supports 23 schools in the Boston area, including the three CUP schools.

Austin, also the organization's CEO, told The Pilot Jan. 29 that the goal of the Boston Schools Fund is to increase access for all families to high-quality schools in the areas. All types of schools are considered, not just Catholic schools, and the organization tries to "get to know" schools for six months to a year before having them apply for support, Austin explained.

He wasn't able to say how much of a financial contribution the organization will be providing to the CUP schools, but he did say that planning and support grants typically start from $10,000 to $15,000 per school, and technical support to ensure that schools have good business models, good marketing strategies, and curriculum support is also typically provided.

The Boston Schools Fund only works with two other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Boston -- St. Joseph Prepatory High School in Brighton and St. Columbkille High School in Brighton -- but Austin said he looks forward to establishing more connections with Catholic schools in the area.

"Catholic schools in Boston are high-quality schools and I'm certain that with the right supports we'll continue to see Catholic schools continue to serve more and more kids here in Boston and serve them very well," he said.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, the unique partnership the three CUP schools have formed is one that Kathy Mears, the superintendent of Catholic schools, hopes to see repeated in other schools in the area.

"I think it's a great thing when schools collaborate together and work together, and I hope all of our schools are considering these partnerships because we're much stronger when we work together than separately," she said to The Pilot, Jan. 29.