A proposal by Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School to add elementary grades came under some criticism Thursday night from people fearing it would lead to the demise of the city’s other two Catholic schools.
About 40 people attended an informational meeting at the former St. Paul’s School to hear a proposal by Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons officials to expand their program to kindergarten through 12th grade.
The plan is to lease the vacant St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School on Albany Street near ND-BG to house grades kindergarten through fifth, while maintaining its current grade 6-12 facility at 2602 Albany St.
The school’s enrollment — currently at about 325 — has been declining for several years. Principal Mike Piatek said ND-BG officials see the addition of elementary grades as a way to ensure a steady flow of students in the coming years. He said the school offers a quality academic program with students scoring near the top on state English and math exams.
“The education that is provided at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons is as good if not better than any of the high schools in the area,” he said.
He said adding an elementary program would allow the school to develop a uniform academic and religious education program from kindergarten through graduation. Piatek said it is too early to talk about tuition but it would be competitive with other Catholic schools in the area.
Tuition at ND-BG is $5,000 annually for sixth grade and $5,500 for seventh and eighth grades; ninth through 12th grades cost $6,100 annually.
Some worried about how such a proposal would affect St. Helen’s and St. John’s. They are the city’s two remaining Catholic schools following the closure of St. Paul the Apostle, St. Anthony’s and St. Luke’s schools, all within the last five years. “I’m concerned that we’d be trying to split up the same pie,” said Brian Baldwin of Niskayuna, who has children at both St. Helen’s and ND-BG.
Another man who declined to give his name said during the question-and-answer session that he was skeptical that the plan would work without drawing students from St. John’s and St. Helen’s. “There just doesn’t seem to be enough of us to support the Catholic school system.”
St. Helen’s has 100 students in grades kindergarten through fifth and St. John’s has 120, according to Sister Jane Herb, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese’s superintendent of schools.
Piatek said it is not the intention to detract from those schools. Rather, they want to target the South Colonie and North Colonie school districts. Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons has done direct mailings to South Colonie residents.
Others were more receptive of the idea. Mike Carroll of Ballston Lake, who has two children attending Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, said he believes that the school should target districts like Shenendehowa. “Just the enormous class sizes is a good reason to leave that district,” he said. “If you start bringing people across the Rexford Bridge, then everybody can benefit.”
Margaret Verhayden, of Rotterdam, said she would be interested in the idea for her first-grade daughter, who is attending Schalmont. She does not like the noisy environment of the public schools. She also said she is not Catholic, so she is an example of a new family that would not take away from the existing schools.
Piatek will report back to the Albany Diocesan School Board at the end of the month about the responses. This will follow two more forums from 7 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 20 and 28 at St. Paul’s School.
He expects it to make a decision by mid- to late February.
“I need to show to them that there is an interest to the community in opening this school. They have no interest in opening a school that’s going to close in a short period of time,” he said.
He added that if there is not sufficient interest to start the elementary school this year, officials would try again next year.