Update Concerning Plans for Catholic Grades Seven and Eight
Dozens of patrons and stakeholders of the Hays Catholic schools gathered in the TMP-Marian auditorium Sunday afternoon to be updated on the plans being made to provide a Catholic education for local seventh and eighth graders. Fr. Kevin Weber began the meeting with a prayer.
The hour and a half session moved quickly to an introduction of members of organizing committees and some history. Claire Gustin, speaking for the Hays Catholic School Board, reviewed the establishment of the board in 2008 by Bishop Coakley and its mission to oversee the financial stability of the Catholic schools in Hays. During the summer of 2011, the board established committees to explore the possibility of a Catholic middle school in the wake of the public school district decision to consolidate all public grade 6-8 students into one middle school. Committees formed addressed parish and diocesan communications, facilities and grounds, curriculum and activities, public relations/marketing, budget/financial projections, and funding/contingency. The Hays Catholic School Board recommended to the pastoral leaders of the community that a Catholic middle school be established. The pastoral leaders approved the recommendation and presented the plan to the Salina diocese. Because the diocese currently lacks a bishop, approval to open a new school was not possible, but approval was given to expand the TMP-Marian curriculum to include grades seven and eight, provided that a solid and timely funding plan could be developed.
Currently, detailed plans for the school are being developed by a committee chaired by Fr. Mike Scully. In addition to Scully, the committee includes Bill DeWitt, Jana Simon, Sandy Losey, Bill Stark, Carol Brull, Anita Walters, Bob Leikam, Rick Staples, and Anne Brull. Fr. Mike reported that his committee is meeting on alternate Sunday afternoons and is currently working on a school mission statement, philosophy, goals, and parent and student handbook.
Bill DeWitt, principal of TMP-Marian, took the floor to outline preliminary plans for hosting the junior high grades on the TMP-Marian campus. He indicated that high school classes would be moved to allow the junior high students to have their own section of the building with separate access. The schedules would also include separate meal times and Mass times for the seventh and eighth grade students. He stated that the curriculum would include religion on a daily basis and a core content curriculum taught by teachers hired specifically for the junior high age group. Electives would be available but somewhat limited by the seven hour schedule. DeWitt stated that the activities, including athletics, currently available to Kennedy Middle School students would also be available next year for both junior high grades. He noted that his planning is targeted for 80 to 120 students, but could be expanded if necessary. He stated that detailed decisions about additional faculty and staff have not yet been made, although grade specific people would be utilized, and that a counselor would be added. DeWitt added that the Kennedy gym, as well as other needed facilities would be available for the junior high students.
Board member Tim Werth summarized the current operating budgets for Holy Family Elementary and TMP-Marian. He indicated that both schools currently rely on the local parishes for a significant amount of their income and both receive about 22% of their operating income from development sources such as fund drives and ACE auction. TMP-Marian also generates about one-third of its budget from the resident program. Werth stated that parish contributions are at capacity at this time; funding for the additional grades must come from other sources. Werth stressed that the middle school plans are dependent on available funding. If the board cannot show a five year funding plan to support the new initiative, there will be no addition of grades seven and eight.
Board member Glenn Braun reviewed his committee’s research concerning the cost of various facility options for the additional grades. After providing the pros and cons of five different plans, he indicated that the long term goal is to provide preschool through grades four at Holy Family , grades five through eight at the Kennedy location, and continue with grades nine through twelve at TMP-Marian. Plans for the 2012-13 school year, however, will put the seventh and eighth graders on the TMP-M campus.
Finally Tim Werth and Advancement Director Jeff Brull presented a plan to provide the funding needed to move forward with the curriculum expansion and pave the way to open the new middle school. The Saint Thomas More Society has been set up to promote regular giving at a variety of levels and structured to provide the $700,000 plus annual operating budget needed to expand Catholic education in Hays. Brull and Werth again emphasized that pledges sufficient to fund the project are necessary by the end of this calendar year to allow the expansion to proceed. Pledge cards were provided to all in attendance and are available at the school or by contacting Advancement Director Jeff Brull at (785) 625-6577 ext. 203 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A variety of questions from those in attendance were addressed during the meeting; in some cases where decisions have not been made, patrons were advised that more information would be forthcoming. The TMP-Marian website will provide additional information as it becomes available.
A second presentation of the information above will be made this evening at 7:00 at Holy Family Elementary School. The board, committee, and staff members will once again be present to answer questions based on decisions which have been made at this time.