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'Little Flower' school in Somerville closes

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SOMERVILLE — Parents, students and parish leaders are struggling to confront the challenges surrounding the Aug. 22 news that the Little Flower Elementary School at St. Benedict Parish in East Somerville will close.

The school, which opened in 1927, suffered a drop of enrollment from 168 students last year to 147, said Sister Kathleen M. Carr, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Boston Archdiocese. This drop combined with uncertain finances led to the decision by Father David A. Doucet, the parish’s pastor, to close the school, she added.

According to a statement from the archdiocese, the school was facing a deficit of $130,000 for the upcoming year.

"The pastor, Catholic Schools Office and the Archdiocese apologize to students, parents and school personnel for the lateness in this announcement," the statement said.

At a private informational meeting for members of the school community the evening of Aug. 22 in the school’s cafeteria, Father Doucet explained to parents and students that the school budget would force the school to close in February, said Donna E. Goode, a mother of a daughter, Jessica, who graduated from the school in 2002 and a son, Joseph, who is entering the sixth grade.

Inside the meeting, the parents begged the pastor for the opportunity to raise the funds to keep the school open, but he did not change his decision, she said. Undeterred, a collection of parents have vowed to find a way before the school year begins, said Deborah A. O’Neil, a mother of a fifth grader. “We have one week to figure this out.”

Another parent, Maria C. Curtatone, a former candidate for city mayor and sister of the current mayor, said she has not given up.

Curtatone said she was driven by her daughter Isabella’s desire to join the school’s toddler program. “I completely understand the situation Father Doucet is in, but all we ask is the chance.”

"I am an Emmanuel girl, and we are famous all over the world for getting things done," she said.

While parents focused on the future of the school and their children for the upcoming school year, other members of the St. Benedict community spoke with fondness for the school and its place in their lives.

"It was a great school that gave me a great education," said Dennis M. Sullivan, a city alderman, who graduated from the school in 1981.

The school was an important link among families and inside families, he said. “It really meant a lot to me that one of my principals, Sister Pasquelline, was my father’s first grade teacher.”

“We didn’t know how good an education it was until after we left,” said Patrick M. Scarry, who graduated in 1968.

Scarry said he expected the falling enrollments, roughly one-quarter of the amount when he attended the school, would force the closing of the school. “We had 550 to 600 students,” he said.

“The closing is unfortunate for the students, the parents, and for our community as a whole. The Little Flower School was a great asset to the city and we were all hoping it would remain open for at least another year,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

"Of course the city will welcome every student who wishes to join our host of great public schools," he said.

Sister Carr said her office is working to smooth the transition for both students and teachers.

Unlike other Catholic school systems, the Boston Archdiocese system has placed more than 70 percent of students from closed schools into other Catholic schools, she said.

Even before the public announcement Monday, parents who had learned the news had transferred eight students to St. Catherine of Siena Parish Elementary School in Somerville and one student to the St. Clement Parish Elementary School, which is on the Somerville and Medford line, she said.

The teachers from the Little Flower school will receive special consideration by other area Catholic schools, she said. “Three teachers already have interviews.”

The Catholic Schools Office and the archdiocese said they do not expect any other closing announcements prior to the start of the 2005-2006 school year.

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