Supporters of Our Lady of the Ridge Elementary School in Chicago Ridge are doing everything possible to keep their doors open. I'm not sure what their odds are, but at least they have a chance.
At this point, you have to accept the fact the Chicago Archdiocese has sent out a warning that the school could close if they are unable raise enough money and increase enrollment.
But St. Louis de Montfort Elementary School in Oak Lawn did not have that opportunity. Unfortunately, the enrollment numbers at the school had continued to plummet over the years. Administrators there probably saw no alternative. But I always feel sorry for the parents who send their children to these schools and then receive the shocking news.
The announcement to close St. Louis de Montfort occurred on Jan. 11, which is the same day that Our Lady of the Ridge received its warning. I have brought this up to several supporters and parents who have children attending Our Lady of the Ridge about the warning. The archdiocese believes there is hope that this school can remain open.
While the enrollment numbers have been low at Our Lady of the Ridge the past few years, there does seem to be an organized effort from the school administration and the parents. That is a positive sign. The school also held an open house on Sunday, Jan. 29 to begin Catholic Schools Week. Banners could be found in front of the school mentioning the open house. Banners and signs also could be seen touting the positive aspects of the school.
It is always difficult to say how the Chicago Archdiocese is leaning when it comes to closing schools. Queen of Peace, an all-girls high school in Burbank, is closing in June due to low enrollment numbers that the archdiocese believes will not turn around. Many parents and students found out through a series of robocalls on the night of Jan. 24.
I have seen many Catholic schools close within the past 16 years. The archdiocese has usually indicated that they would like to seen an enrollment at or near 225. But that is not always the case. I think it often comes down to what impact does the school have on the surrounding community at large. And can the staff and parents at Our Lady of the Ridge raise enough money to validate staying open?
Sr. Stephanie Kondik, principal at Our Lady of the Ridge, gushes when she talks about the parents and the students at the school. She has served as principal there for 23 years and believes the students receive a better education at Our Lady of the Ridge. Sr. Stephanie said that she and the staff know the students by name. She added that the appeal of Our Lady of the Ridge is that is a close-knit family.
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, a 1967 graduate of Our Lady of the Ridge, believes the school is like the heart of the community. For residents who have been raised in Chicago Ridge, Our Lady of the Ridge is important even if they did not attend the school. Tokar is confident that the archdiocese will allow Our Lady of the Ridge another chance because parents, community leaders and the business community have been raising money to keep it open.
The money aspect is important. I have seen some schools close whose enrollment numbers were higher but they had long-lasting debts. And some of the schools have closed because the archdiocese determined that they could not sustain enrollment growth.
But I have also seen schools with low enrollments who were able to raise lots of cash and remain open. St. Christopher School, 14611 S. Keeler Ave., Midlothian, was supposed to close at the end of 2014. But through an aggressive marketing campaign and the fact that supporters were able to raise money through businesses and donations, St. Christopher has remained open.
And this was a school that seemed certain to close. But graduates, the school staff and even the students fought against the odds and were able to convince the archdiocese to keep St. Christopher open.
So there is a precedent for Our Lady of the Ridge. The two key aspects are raising enough money and coming up with a long-term strategy to keep Our Lady of the Ridge viable. The archdiocese needs to be convinced that enough students will continue to go to the school and that the community remain involved.
The archdiocese has given Our Lady of the Ridge a chance. I think they believe it is worth preserving. It is now up to the school staff, the parents and the community. Without Our Lady of the Ridge, there would be no Catholic elementary school serving Chicago Ridge and nearby Worth.
Our Lady of the Ridge is needed in this community. I believe the archdiocese will ultimately agree.