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The Archdiocese of Boston announced March 3 that, due to diminishing enrollment, St. Ann School in Somerville will close at the end of the current academic year.
The strain of a steadily decreasing student population forced school officials and Father David Keene, the pastor of St. Ann Parish, to make the decision to close the school. According to the archdiocese, enrollment has declined by 65 students in the past five years. There are currently only 156 students enrolled at the K-8 school. Only slightly more than half that number had registered for the coming academic year.
Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston Sister Kathleen Carr, CSJ, has witnessed the “struggle” to remain financially viable that the school has encountered because of its limited enrollment.
Sister Kathleen explained that the “financial viability norm” used by Catholic schools in the archdiocese is 25 students per class. She said that there are currently nine students in grades two and seven and 10 students in grade six. To have a teacher for each grade with so few students is costly, she said.
"It's been very hard" for the pastor and the principal, said Sister Kathleen. "They've been wonderful and have done a very fine job in communicating with parents and keeping them abreast in a very timely fashion of what the particular situation was looking like."
Father Keene and principal Grace Alexander met with parents frequently over the past several weeks to discuss the financial circumstances of the school. They held two meetings recently with the entire parent body and at a March 2 meeting they informed parents that the school would close.
Father Keene described the meeting as “very calm and peaceful,” because parents had been steadily receiving updates about the situation. He said that parents have realized that continuing to operate the school was not possible.
"We simply can't pay the budget there" with the number of students currently in classes at the school, he said.
"As painful as it is, everyone here has dealt with the reality of a closing well and is looking to serve our children in the best possible way," Father Keene continued. "The way that they will be served is in a strengthened Catholic school."
He gave credit to the parents and staff of the school for their dedication to St. Ann School despite dwindling enrollment and unexpected obstacles such as a September 2003 fire which destroyed the teachers’ lounge and two classrooms.
"Given the many adversities we faced this year, it was only the faithful commitment of our teachers and families that enabled our doors to remain open at all. Unfortunately, enrollment issues don't enable us to remain open," he noted.
After last year’s fire, students and teachers were forced to relocate to the former St. Polycarp school building in Somerville for four months while repairs were made to St. Ann School. During that time the staff focused on recruiting students for the coming year, without success, the archdiocese said in a press release announcing the school’s closure.
The Catholic Schools Office, headed by Sister Kathleen, will work with Alexander to help parents transition their children to one of the other four Catholic elementary schools in Somerville. Staff at the school will be put on a priority hiring list, which will be sent to the Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
Father Keene said that the students are “saddened but surprisingly realistic given their ages” about the financial hardships the school has experienced. They, like their parents, are optimistic about the future.
"The parents and all of us are looking to move forward with a sense of purpose and hope, and I walked away from the [March 2] meeting very encouraged by their commitment to see this year through in a hopeful way," Father Keene commented. "The important thing is this is a community of faith, and it's our unity in Christ that keeps us together even if we attend school under a different roof."