With the sudden closure of John A. Coleman Catholic High School ahead of the 2019-20 school year, the local public school districts say they are ready to accommodate a modest increase in student enrollment. Coleman will officially close its doors on Friday, August 30.
Coleman Catholic, opened in 1966, thrived for two decades, but enrollment issues began long before the decision was made to shutter the school. From a mid-1970s peak of nearly 600 students, enrollment was nearly half of that as the 1990s began. In 2001, when student enrollment was down to 188, the archdiocese of New York pegged Coleman for closure. A community fundraising initiative saved the school at the time. Technically, Coleman became an independent school leasing the campus space at 430 Hurley Avenue in the Town of Ulster from the archdiocese.
School officials confirmed this week that only nine freshmen had planned to enroll this fall.
According to Kingston schools superintendent Paul Padalino, 53 Coleman students live within the district. At least half have already registered to attend Kingston High School in the fall. He said the school could easily accommodate all 53.
“Truthfully, for us it’s a better scenario than for many other districts,” Padalino said. “I mean, you know, a 2000-student student high school, we sprinkle 53 kids across four grade levels, it’s not going to have a huge impact on our class size or any of our programming. And it wouldn’t require us to hire any teachers or anything like that. So we’re actually pretty well set to handle 53 students. That’s not going to make too much of a change.”
Saugerties High School can also accommodate a number of Coleman students. Saugerties superintendent Kirk Reinhardt did not know the number of students enrolled in the Catholic school from within the Saugerties district. He estimated the number to be between 15 and 20.
Especially at the high-school level, he said the district had enough wiggle room to accept a modest increase in the student population without having to make significant adjustments. “Luckily at the high school level, the ability to absorb students is a lot easier because there’s so many sections of everything offered,” Reinhardt said. “You know, elementary schools are a lot tougher.”
Each of the four Saugerties elementary schools is capable of handling a few new students. They might struggle with adding ten or more in a single year, especially if those students were in a single grade or two. “That would be tricky, because at that level that you may have to look at additional staff, and you would hope that you would have the building space,” Reinhardt said.
Might such a hypothetical situation require a districtwide rezoning effort? “I guess worst-case scenario is you do an emergency plan, you find out where people live, you distribute them that year and then hopefully it doesn’t happen again,” responded Reinhardt. “And if it did you’d have to get together the whole community and actually look at an alignment or reconfiguration.”
Padalino agreed that bringing in a high number of students to a single school, especially if they were all roughly the same age, would be more difficult at the elementary-school level. Kingston has seven elementary schools.
“That would be a very different story,” Padalino said. “If you took 53 kids and spread them across five grades, it probably doesn’t make a huge difference. We’re lucky enough to have some flexibility, and still keep our class sizes reasonable. At Kingston High School it doesn’t really have that huge of an impact.”
With the closure of Coleman, Our Lady of Lourdes in Poughkeepsie.becomes the nearest private Catholic high school to Ulster County. Officials at the school did not return calls about how many if any Coleman students were planning to transfer there for the 2019-20 school year.
In Saugerties, Reinhardt estimated there might be about ten new students at the high school this fall, a number the school is well-equipped to handle. “Ten high-school kids is not bad to absorb,” he said. “That’ll be fine.”
Padalino has coordinated with the high-school guidance department to help ensure a smooth transition for those students coming over from the Catholic school. “We want to make sure they’re offered an opportunity to maybe come in and see the school or anything they needed to do to make themselves feel comfortable coming from a much smaller environment into Kingston High School, which is just physically and population-wise, a much larger building,” Padalino said. “I think we’ll do our best to make them feel at home. We’ll get them where they need to be, just like we have with every one of our other students.”