St. Mary of the Snow families face choices

St. Joseph School welcomes transfer students with open arms. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

St. Joseph School welcomes transfer students with open arms. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

After months of meetings and planning with parents, teachers and pastors, the Archdiocese of New York called off a plan to merge Kingston Catholic and St. Joseph School in Kingston while St. Mary of the Snow School in Saugerties will close in June as planned.

The plan, announced late in April, calls for Kingston Catholic and St. Joseph School to both remain open in their present form as full kindergarten through eighth grade campuses, said Fran Davies, a spokesperson for the New York Archdiocese.

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The merger plan was called off after parents voiced opposition to it at Archdiocese-sponsored town hall meetings. The Times Herald-Record reported the merger plan would have seen Kingston Catholic become an “Early Learning Center” focused on pre-k and kindergarten, while St. Joseph would have hosted grades one through eight.

To deal with the parent’s concerns, the Diocese held additional meetings and created a local ad-hoc committee to create a different plan, Davies said.

“Thanks to the hard work and strong leadership of the Ulster Catholic community, these schools were able to develop a plan to address enrollment and the resulting financial issues that originally made them candidates for a possible merger this June,” Davies said.

While both Catholic schools in Kingston remain open in their present form, 132 years of Catholic education at St. Mary of the Snow School will come to an end in June. Davies cited an enrollment of only 82 students, and the ability to accommodate students at other schools as the reasons for closing St. Mary of the Snow School.

While Kingston parents were relieved the merger was called off, Saugerties parents must still make tough decisions about where to send their kids.

So far, 22 of 82 children who aren’t graduating have enrolled in Kingston Catholic or St. Joseph School, Davies said.

“More families have attended open houses and social events at our schools in an effort to select the school that best meets their children’s needs,” Davies said.

“The children have already begun to experience a warm welcome from both of the Kingston schools,” Davies added.

St Mary of the Snow students had the chance to meet students from the two Catholic schools in Kingston during open houses, afternoon teas, ice-cream socials and student dances, Davies said.

Families who live more than 15 miles from Kingston won’t be eligible for bus rides, though parents can drive children to the high school to catch a bus to St. Joseph or Cahill Elementary for a bus to Kingston Catholic, Davies said.

 

Option 1: Kingston Catholic

Kingston Catholic is located at 159 Broadway. It presently has enrollment of 248 students and is anticipating 263 students next September, principal Jill Albert said.

Albert was delighted by the Archdiocese’s decision to call off the merger and continue a145-year-old tradition of kindergarten through eighth grade education at Kingston, but saddened to hear St. Mary of the Snow will close. “It was a long and difficult process, but a necessary one to help sort out the future of Catholic schools in Ulster County,” she said.

The school plans to welcome St. Mary students with open arms. Events for St. Mary students included ice cream socials, tours and tickets to a Kingston Catholic student play, Albert said.

Albert plans to use a buddy system to help new students get acquainted. “We’re having a shadow day where students can spend the day and we hook them up with a buddy,” Albert said. “If they decide to enroll, the student will keep in touch with them over the summer, so when they come to school in the fall, there will be a familiar friendly face.”

Officials from Kingston Catholic plan to sit down with students from St. Mary to see what traditions they would like to see carried on in the school. “It would be great for them, but also great for our students to experience new traditions that they might not have been exposed to,” Albert said.

St. Mary students transferring to Kingston Catholic face larger classes of between 22-32 students, Albert said. Albert does not believe children used to small classes will have a big problem adjusting to the new environment.

“Thirty-two sounds like a large class, but the teachers do it with great success,” Albert said. “There’s order, discipline and high expectations for success from the teachers.

“The teachers are uniquely dedicated,” Albert said. “They come in early and stay late to help kids who are struggling get where they need to be.”

She said that for the last five years, the school has had between 94 percent and 97 percent of students reaching the NYS benchmark in both math and English Language Arts.

“On top of that, they’re happy kids,” Albert said. “It’s a joyful school building.”

Albert touted the school’s “academic excellence, spiritual formation, community-mindedness and extensive use of technology” as reasons why parents should send their kids to Kingston Catholic. Technology includes an iPad lab, smart boards and a state of the art science lab.

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“This generation is a digital generation. Trying to teach them with a blackboard and chalk is a little bit reminiscent of the Flintstones,” Albert said. “They look at teachers trying to use those methods like they’re dinosaurs.”

Students in eighth grade can take accelerated ninth grade science and math and take the Regents exam, Albert said. Spanish is offered starting in kindergarten.

Albert also discussed Kingston Catholic’s intramural and competitive sports including soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis and track.

“We play St. Joseph School, other Catholic schools in our region, and other private schools like the Woodstock Day School,” Albert said. “It provides an opportunity for students to have athletic opportunities that were previously only available to public school children.”

Clubs include yearbook, student council, honor society, Mandarin Chinese, Scrabble club, musical theater, journalism, art club, student council, literary club, math Olympiads, and, coming in the fall, a debate team.

While some Saugerties parents harbored concern over crime near Kingston Catholic, Albert assures them it is safe.

“We’re located less than a quarter-mile from the police department,” Albert said. “We’ve never had a crime incident on campus. It’s a very secure campus and a very safe school. Many of our parents are state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and Kingston police, and they are very aware of areas in any city or town that are unsafe and they put their children here.”

Albert suggests parents interested in learning more about Kingston Catholic should visit their website at www.kingstoncatholicschool.com, visit the school’s Facebook page or call (845) 331-9318 to set up a tour.