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2/15/2018 9:00:00 AM
Three diocesan schools turning focus to pre-K

Three elementary schools across the Albany Diocese will be expanding their pre-kindergarten programs in response to increased interest in their communities, while also making adjustments to the older elementary grades as a result of shifting demographics:

•  St. Ambrose School in Latham plans to add additional classes for three- and four-year-old students and is considering expanding the pre-K program to year-'round. At the same time, it will be discontinuing its seventh- and eighth-grade classes at the end of June.

•  Similarly, St. Mary's Academy in Hoosick Falls is looking to boost enrollment for its pre-K program and will be discontinuing seventh and eighth grades at the end of the current school year following years of declining enrollment.

•  St. Francis de Sales Regional Catholic School in Herkimer will shift its entire focus to the youngest members of the community to serve a growing need in the far western end of the Diocese. St. Francis will transition to an early childhood education center for pre-K and kindergarten and discontinue its elementary school program, which currently runs through sixth grade.

Diocesan officials said the changes are part of a strategic response to evolving needs and demographics as more families seek out Catholic pre-K programs, providing their children with a solid foundation for subsequent grade levels.

"We have seen tremendous growth in our pre-K programs across the Diocese," said Giovanni Virgiglio, diocesan superintendent of schools. "The changes these schools are implementing are in line with our strategic plan, and are an example of how our diocesan principals are responsive in shaping their schools' futures in ways that best serve the needs of their communities.

"At the same time, we are saddened by the loss of older grades and the impact this will have on students and their families. These were difficult decisions that were not made lightly."

Administrators will work with families to seek alternative placements in other Catholic schools for affected students. The diocesan Catholic Schools Office will assist affected faculty and staff in identifying other suitable positions that may be available at other diocesan schools.

All three schools are facing significant budget deficits during the 2017-18 school year, caused by the limited enrollment in seventh and eighth grades at St. Ambrose and St. Mary's Academy and a significant enrollment decline at St. Francis de Sales across virtually all elementary-school grades.

The pre-K programs are a standout success, and St. Ambrose is looking to add several additional classes and may extend its program to year-'round for three- and four-year-olds.

At St. Mary's Academy, approximately a third of its students are in two pre-K classes; at St. Francis de Sales, 30 of the school's 52 children are in pre-K or kindergarten. St. Francis has a waiting list for its pre-K program.

Strategic priorities for Catholic schools of the Diocese call on all schools to "create strategic plans which will create a path for sustainability," with "specific attention...on growing pre-K enrollment and increasing the retention rate of students, particularly those moving from pre-K to kindergarten."

Mr. Virgiglio praised the schools for embracing this strategic vision. The three schools put forth their plans to the Diocesan School Board in December and January. The school board reviewed those plans and forwarded their recommendations for the plans to Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger in late January.

Following approval by the Bishop, the schools announced the changes to their respective communities this week.

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