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Catholic schools in North Hills first in line under Pittsburgh diocese's restructuring plan

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

Eleven Catholic schools in the North Hills will be the first in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to undergo restructuring as part of a broader overhaul to meet shifting needs and constraints across a six-county territory.

Goals of the so-called “regionalization” plan include improving the private education system's financial competitiveness and increasing enrollment by sharing resources and rolling out a stablilized, uniform tuition rate.

Current costs vary by elementary school and range from $3,500 to $4,500 a year.

Like Mass attendance, enrollment in Catholic schools is on the decline. In 2000, about 24,000 students were enrolled in 102 diocesan schools. This school year, about 12,000 students are enrolled in 59 schools.

Specific plans for each site won't be developed until parents and school and parish councils weigh in on five proposed options for grouping grade levels under the new system.

Changes will not go into effect before the 2017-18 academic year.

“Some schools may remain much as they are in terms of staff and structure, but would receive regional support and have regional governance,” states a handout given to parishioners. “Others may share a principal. Still others may be structured with two campuses allowing for more specialized education based on student grade levels.”

Through online surveys, parents are being asked to weigh in on five proposed models:

• all students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade at one campus;

• preschool and kindergarten at one campus; grades 1-8 at another;

• preschool through third grade at one campus, grades 4-8 at another;

• preschool through fourth grade at one campus; grades 5-8 at another;

• preschool through fifth grade at one campus, grades 6-8 at another.

So far, early reports suggest the traditional K-8 option is most popular, officials said.

Under the regionalized model, no school will be supported by one parish or a cluster of parishes.

Instead, every school will be led by a shared regional administrator and supported by all of the North Hills' 32 parishes.

They range from Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh's North Side to Good Samaritan in Ambridge, Beaver County. The schools will be run by a new nonprofit entity formed by the diocese, the North Hills Regional Catholic Elementary Schools Inc.

Along with cutting costs, the diocese says the restructuring aims to strengthen each school's “Catholic identity and mission.”

“One important goal of regionalization is to strengthen and promote quality Catholic education,” diocesan spokesman Bob De Witt said. “Students benefit from rigorous academics while learning the values of faith, hope, love and community.”

A task force for St. Sebastian in Ross and St. Teresa of Avila in Perrysville held an information session for parents on Monday. Two other task forces — one for St. Alphonsus in Pine and St. Alexis in McCandless; another for St. Bonaventure near Ross Park Mall and St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Ursula, both in Hampton — held their parent sessions a week ago.

A fourth group is further behind in the process. School and parish advisory councils for two schools, Assumption in Bellevue and Northside in Brighton Heights, will be forming their task forces and providing parents more information in coming weeks.

St. James in Sewickley and Christ the Divine Teacher in Aspinwall also will be part of the restructuring.

Parent input will be submitted by the end of the year to Bishop David Zubik, who said he will review the feedback before making decisions.

The school restructuring is a piece to the diocese's five-year planning initiative, called “On Mission for the Church Alive!” — which in early 2018 could usher in new mergers, closures and shared models across more than 190 parishes in Western Pennsylvania.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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