On Wednesday evening, it was announced that Saint Mary School in Newington will close, effective immediately.
The announcement was made at a meeting for teachers, administrators and families on Wednesday, just two weeks before school is set to begin.
Parents said they were blindsided by the news. A faculty member told Eyewitness News they also found out about the closure on Wednesday during the meeting, just like the parents.
"What a lot of parents feel is that we are being discriminated against because we are minorities. A lot the parents feel as if we don't have a choice to go where we choose to, but where they tell us to," said Isabel Rodriguez.
"If this was going to happen they should have known way back in June when we were filling out our applications and our registrations here at St. Mary's. That financial aid, that they were not going to be able to offer what they said they were going to offer and I came here basically because Saint Brigid's does not have an aftercare program that belongs to the school, they have the YMCA, even though the pay on a sliding scale, I can't afford it," said Nina Gonzalez.
In a press release, school officials said they hope that the 109 students who are enrolled at Saint Mary School for the 2016-2017 school year will consider attending the newly-created St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School in West Hartford.
“Saint Mary School would have run out of capital midway through the school year. In making this agonizing decision, the students and their families were always top of mind and in our prayers,” said Saint Mary Parish and School Administrator Reverend Shawn T. Daly in a press release. “I personally am a product of Catholic education, I believe in it, and I am a strong advocate for it. I did not want children to start the school year in one school and have to transfer to another half-way through the year,” he added.
The St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership was announced last March, and officials said Saint Mary School students who attend will be taught in single-grade classrooms, rather than multi-age classrooms that were offered at Saint Mary's.
"Any tuition assistance that was awarded to a student attending Saint Mary School for the 2016-2017 school year will follow that student to the Partnership School," officials said.
School officials said in addition to the Partnership School, there are other Catholic schools to consider within a five-mile radius of Saint Mary’s:
FAQs About St. Mary School in Newington
Q: Why was the decision made to close Saint Mary School in Newington two weeks before the first day of school?
A: A new parish administrator came to St. Mary Church four weeks ago and began a review of the parish-owned school. As a result of this comprehensive review, a severe financial shortfall was identified which would significantly impact the viability of the school’s finances for the upcoming academic year. Upon consultation with and approval by the parish trustees who are the lay members of the parish corporation, it was determined that it was not financially responsible for the school to remain open. The school is operating in a state of critical financial deficit and does not have the capital to meet its expenses. Insufficient financial support and low student enrollment also contributed to the decision.
Q: Where would the 109 students who are currently enrolled at Saint Mary School go?
A: The goal of Saint Mary School administrators is to transition the students to the newly- created St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School in West Hartford, which is located only 2.9 miles from Saint Mary’s. They are committed to making the transition for students as seamless as possible and to help families through this difficult time.
Q: What would be the advantages to attending St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School?
A: While Saint Mary School offered a multi-age classroom model, the Partnership School will offer single-grade classrooms for all grades. In addition, the Partnership School offers a newer building and amenities such as: a private chapel, enhanced technology, a well-equipped science lab, a variety of girls’ and boys’ sports (e.g. cross country, soccer, basketball, and lacrosse), numerous clubs including a drama club, visual and performing arts, a Junior National Honor Society, a gymnasium and a cafeteria as well as beautiful grounds and playground.
Q: How will Saint Mary students get to the Partnership School?
A: Less than 10% of the student population uses bus transportation, and the majority of Saint Mary School students rely on personal transportation. However, we are currently exploring the provision of busing from Newington to the Partnership School in West Hartford. We are committed to working with Saint Mary School families to facilitate their transportation needs.
Q: Will any of the faculty and staff at Saint Mary School be employed at the Partnership School?
A: Current Saint Mary Principal Margaret McDonald will assume the position of Assistant Principal at St. Brigid-St. Augustine Partnership School and will work with St. Brigid-St. Augustine Principal Shevon Hickey. Full-time teachers with ministerial agreements will be offered positions at the Partnership School. Part-time employees will be placed at the Partnership School as needed.
Q: If a Saint Mary student does not want to transfer to the Partnership School what other choices would they have?
A: In addition to the Partnership School, there are three other exemplary Catholic schools located within a five-mile radius of Saint Mary School. They are: Corpus Christi School in Wethersfield, Sacred Heart in New Britain, and St. Thomas the Apostle in West Hartford.
Q: What is the tuition at the Partnership School?
A: Tuition at the Partnership School in the 2016-2017 academic year for students in grades K through 8 will be $4,650 for Catholic students affiliated with a parish, and $5,200 for Catholic students not affiliated with a parish and for non-Catholic students. In both cases, the tuition is lower than it was at St. Mary School.
Q: Will tuition assistance be available to Saint Mary students who attend the Partnership School?
A: Any tuition assistance that was awarded to a student attending Saint Mary School will follow that student only to the Partnership School.
Q: Will refunds be given to families who have placed a deposit to attend Saint Mary School and decide not to attend the Partnership School?
A: Yes, these deposits will be returned.
Q: Will students require a new uniform for the Partnership School?
A: St. Mary School students who have already purchased their uniforms will be able to wear them at the Partnership School. Those who still have to purchase their uniform are encouraged to purchase the Partnership School uniform. Further information will soon be available regarding other uniform options.
Q: Will the Saint Mary School name be assumed by the Partnership School?
A: At this point in time, there are no plans to change the name of St. Brigid – St. Augustine Partnership School.
Q: What will happen to the school building?
A: At this time, there are no new plans for the use of the school building.
Q: How many students were enrolled at Saint Mary School?
A: The Saint Mary School building can accommodate over 300 students. There were 109 students enrolled as of the fall of 2015. In 2006, enrollment was 200, which indicates that in the last 10 years enrollment has declined by almost 50 percent.
Q: What role does the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis (OEEC) play in the decision to close Saint Mary School?
A: The decision to close schools is not the responsibility of the Archdiocese nor the OEEC, since parish-owned schools such as Saint Mary are the mission and ministry of their parish. Consultation takes place with the OEEC, but ultimately it is the responsibility of the pastor, parish trustees and financial councils who operate the school to determine the sustainability of the school. This was a local parish-based decision.
Stay updated with Eyewitness News as more information becomes available.
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