The Kingston Catholic community has long been aware that St. Joseph School has been in the crosshairs of the Archdiocese of New York for several years now. They did not, however, expect to receive a notice two weeks before final exams that they would be closing the doors forever.
On May 31, the Office of the Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese of New York announced what it termed “operational changes” to St. Joe’s “St. Joseph School in Kingston will transition to become part of the Kingston Catholic School community at the end of the current school year,” read the press release. “The Archdiocese will provide St. Joseph families with support to transition students to nearby Kingston Catholic School or other schools depending on their unique needs.”
In 2013, the community was surprised to find St. Joseph’s on the Archdiocese’s “Endangered Schools” list. But parents and educators mobilized swiftly to launch a well-organized campaign to save the school, with the help and support of area politicians.
But the reprieve didn’t turn out to be forever. According to Nick Iacono, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, the “painful and difficult decision” announced last week centered in the school’s consistent and hard decline in enrollment, despite ongoing Diocesan infusion of “hundreds of thousands of dollars per year” that collected tuition wasn’t covering. During the 2005-06 school year, Iacono said, the school had an enrollment of 256 students. Today, it’s 146 students.
Saint Joseph School, located on Wall Street, is over 100 years old. It boasts two buildings for its K-8 program. The expectation of increased enrollment at Kingston Catholic means more space will be required. What families refer to as the “new building” of St. Joseph’s campus, will continue to be used to house Kingston Catholic’s fifth through eighth grades. The “old building” will be returned to the church.
St. Joe’s mom Karen Kessel McKenna was peeved over how it all went down. “Announcing a closure on May 31 was just wrong,” she said, complaining that St. Joe’s encouraged everyone to re-enroll for the upcoming school year without dropping even a hint that there might be a problem. A letter from St. Joseph’s said that all who paid a registration fee would be refunded, but it also said that any student who enrolls at Kingston Catholic would owe a registration fee at that time, but then receive a credit in the first month on their account. That’s a move which left some parents grumbling over paying, and paying again.
But the biggest reported shock was to the teachers, said McKenna. “For lack of a better word, everyone was blindsided.” But no one, she added, was more blindsided than the teachers, who would be hearing for the first time about losing their jobs. Moreover, she characterized the announcement as “impersonal”— receiving an email from the school, and a second one within the same hour from the Archdiocese. “Cruel,” she said, “and in no way acceptable. They couldn’t have had a meeting?”
McKenna fumed over the loss of valued teachers, and her concern for students witnessing the poor treatment of the teachers by their own Archdiocese. “When my 13-year-old told me he didn’t know if he should be angry or if he should cry, it just broke my heart,” said McKenna. “These kids have found a family in their school.”
Iacono said St. Joseph has 10 full-time and four part-time teachers, but did not know how many administration support staff. (Calls to Kingston Catholic Principal Jodi Vines, St. Joseph Principal Dustyn Cormier and Jill Albert as president of both schools all went unanswered.) Iacono said the Archdiocese’s director of teacher personnel will work with tenured and non-tenured faculty to help them get placed, either at Kingston Catholic or elsewhere.
‘Everyone is crying’
Susann Becker of Kingston has a seventh grader at St. Joe’s who will be transitioning to the Kingston Catholic community, as well as a St. Joseph graduate who went onto Coleman, and is now serving in the Marines. “They waited until a few weeks before final exams, so our kids can sit in class and cry,” said Becker. “My son said everyone is crying, and the kids are upset. This is not like a public school; this is very intimate. We all know each other. My son is there because my other son was there. We are a family. I was upsetting for my son to come home and say that everyone is crying. You are seriously going to do this, two weeks before everyone has a final?”
Becker said her grievance with the decision is logistical. Becker did not relish the idea of parents with more than one kid rushing up Broadway to get from one school to the next on time. “Our greatest issue is that since we have more square footage than Kingston Catholic, and we could accommodate more students, then they shut us down, and opened up one of our buildings anyway … Why don’t they just call it a merger?”
Good question. Iacono had the answer. He cited the teachers’ contractual agreements as the reason it’s regarded as a school closure, rather than a more public relations-friendly merger. “We don’t merge schools because of our collective-bargaining teachers, we are not able to merge schools per se,” said Iacono.
“While that is certainly the case, we do see it as an opportunity to strengthen two school communities, and combine two academic communities. Considering Kingston’s proximities and academics, we think many families will transition. This will combine and strengthen two school communities.”
Kingston Catholic is not affiliated with a parish; Saint Joseph is. Kingston Catholic is entirely funded by tuition payments and mandated fundraising for monies that go into an account to help offset costs in Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties, which then help fund all the schools in those counties, explained Bridget Lasecki, president of the Kingston Catholic School Family Organization.
“A lot of us are intertwined through churches, sports, theater, and the kids ride buses together, so they know each other,” said Lasecki, who believes the Catholic community in Kingston already has established relationships. “Port Ewen students all ride [the school bus] together. They have also been doing projects together like family movie night, roller skating party, for the last year and a half.”
Lasecki believes that a separate middle school will grant the older kids a more mature experience. “Our attitude as parents in Kingston Catholic is that we are excited for new families joining our Kingston Catholic family, and I personally have a fourth-grader going into fifth, and he is excited about having a middle school experience,” said Lasecki, noting that public schools offer moving up ceremonies and even programming geared toward the older students.