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'Renaissance' begins at South City Catholic Academy

New partnership model school starts year off on right foot

Schools lay out red carpet for renaissance in North County 

By Jennifer Brinker | jbrinker@archstl.org | twitter:@jenniferbrinker

 The red carpet was rolled out bright and early on Aug. 16 for students at St. Ferdinand School. While it was there to welcome them back on their first day, it also was symbol of the renaissance in Catholic education that's rolling out in North County schools.

St. Ferdinand is joining two other Florissant schools — St. Norbert and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne — in the creation of a new partnership model of governance. Under the model, the schools are operated by the sponsoring parishes and the archdiocese. The move also ensures that educational and religious educational programs are of similar quality in all of the schools, including staffing and programs.

In August, Rick Danzeisen was hired as director of North County Catholic elementary schools. Danzeisen, a former principal and teacher for 43 years, will have responsibility for the 10 Catholic elementary schools in north St. Louis County.

"I will be working with pastors and principals to continue quality Catholic education, rooted in Gospel values, in North County," said Danzeisen, who has worked at schools in St. Louis City and Franklin, Jefferson and St. Louis counties — most recently as principal at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Washington.

Danzeisen already has been meeting with pastors, and meetings are scheduled with principals later this month. So far, he's witnessed that "North County has a very diverse group of schools with a diverse population of students. The pastors are very dedicated to keeping Catholic education here."

Although he'll oversee all 10 schools, he will be working most closely with the three partnership model schools in Florissant. As the main point of contact, he will be working with them on religious and academic curriculum, school personnel, accreditation and school improvement, developing and monitoring budgets with pastors, fundraising and development and facilities.

This fall, he will begin meeting weekly with the partnership schools to coordinate efforts for the 2018-19 year, including elements such as registration, textbooks and programs. Danzeisen also will be part of a new board of directors being formed this fall, which will include Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and laity, principals and pastors representing the three schools.

Meanwhile, another North County school has joined the Federation of Catholic Schools in North County, which was formed in 2010 as a gateway to increasing the viability, affordability and accessibility of quality Catholic education in that area.

Holy Trinity in St. Ann will join eight other schools in sharing resources, including professional learning teams for educators, marketing and grant funding; and joint participation in other efforts such as a fitness education and wellness program and sacramental retreats.

"The way the Catholic Education Office is looking at this renaissance, we've already laid the foundation, but we want to make sure that we're cohesive so we can move forward with these new models that are emerging," said Cara Koen, director of advancement for the federation. "I think all of this is going to strengthen our ability to work together." 

Federation of Catholic Schools in North County

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Ferguson

Christ Light of the Nations, Spanish Lake

Holy Trinity, St. Ann (new in 2017)

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Ferguson

Sacred Heart, Florissant

St. Ann, Normandy

St. Ferdinand, Florissant

St. Norbert, Florissant

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, Florissant 

 


South City Catholic Academy opens to excitement 

Dave Luecking | daveluecking@archstl.org twitter: @legacyCatholic 

Just before opening its doors for the first time, Aug. 15, South City Catholic Academy's staff gathered in the school cafeteria for prayer and a little rah-rah.

Archdiocesan Auxiliary Bishop Mark S. Rivituso, who was on hand to welcome students on the first day of school, led the prayer, asking simply for the Lord's blessing of the new archdiocesan elementary school, students, parents and staff in the "Renaissance of Catholic education." After the prayer ended, the group huddled up similar to a sports team, put their hands together in the center and yelled, "One, two, threeeee ... Go!"

Then, Bishop Rivituso went outside for opening day. For the next 25 minutes, he was in his element, kibitzing and shaking hands of arriving students and parents — "working the room," as they say — first in the parking lot and then inside by the gym entrance.

He complimented cool backpacks and hairstyles, telling one student, "You're stylin' today!" Self-effacing as always, he joked with another about not having enough hair for braided pigtails.

Mostly, he offered prayers for "God to help in your studies. ... We'll be praying for you."

Later, with students and parents in the gym, he led a prayer asking again for God's blessings.

"I can feel your excitement, your passion in coming together to celebrate something great — South City Catholic Academy," he said, commending the collaboration of the Partnership Model School. "Working together is what this partnership school is all about, working together to provide the best Catholic education possible, helping your children grow in knowledge and learning and to grow in the faith."

Plans for South City Catholic Academy began in earnest last year, with Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joan of Arc parishes closing their schools and teaming up for one school in collaboration with the archdiocesan Catholic Education Office. The partnership model showcases parishes working together and collaborating with the archdiocese "to ensure that schools are vibrant, available and affordable."

Administrators, faculty and staff came on board in spring, curriculum was discussed, planned and finalized, and, finally, the former school building was upgraded and updated. New classrooms and offices, an innovation space and new science lab, and an IT network came on line. Finally, 130 gallons of paint freshened the building throughout.

"It's very revamped; I like it," said eighth grader Jonah Evans, whose younger sister, Lola, is a sixth grader at the new school. A student at St. Joan of Arc's former school, Evans helped classmate Ann Nelson operate an industrial strength scissors at the school's ribbon-cutting days before the official opening. About 350 people, including students and parents, attended that event.

Evans appreciates not only the building enhancements but also the new school's programs, which include science, art and music.

"I'm very excited," he said.

Seventh-grader Kate Bettlach echoed Evans in the excitement department, adding that the school "offers new opportunities for learning." She ranks math and science among those opportunities.

Parents are stoked as well.

"I love all of the positive changes," said Kate's mom, Laurie Bettlach, adding that South City Catholic "has a real positive vibe. Everyone's very excited about new opportunities and programs. The students are excited to meet and have new friends. They're excited about breakfast, they're excited about lunch ... "

You name it.

"We love everything they've been doing with this school," said parent Adam Wright, who has two children in the new school — James in second grade and Emma in kindergarten. "From the curriculum to the community, location, everything about it. They have taken the best of both schools, the best of the resources the archdiocese has and really made a better school for the community."

The Wright family also includes three more children not yet school-age. The uncertainty about the future at Our Lady of Sorrows School has been replaced "now by certainty" at South City Catholic.

"By the time James is in eighth grade, we'll be in eighth, sixth, fourth, second and kindergarten," he said. "That's one of the things we love about this school. It gives us a long-range school that all of our kids can go to."

The "Renaissance" attracted principal Laura Hirschman, who had been a teacher for five years then an administrator for 10 more at a charter school in the city.

"I was looking for just the right thing and then I saw the Renaissance of Catholic education; this was it," said Hirschman, a parishioner at St. Joseph of Imperial and an alum of Queen of All Saints in south County. An Oakville High grad, she earned an education degree at Truman State in Kirksville. "I've been so blessed; this couldn't have been more perfect."

With a nearly 2-year-old daughter, the "Renaissance" came as she considered "what I want for her education. I would like Catholic education because of that faith identity, but it has to have that real strong connection to the academic piece. Both have to be super-high quality and both have to be very connected. That was driving my vision."

South City Catholic opens with 256 students in junior kindergarten through eighth grade. The school already has wait lists for four grades — junior kindergarten, kindergarten, fourth and sixth.

"We're super-excited," Hirschman said. 

South City Catholic Academy at a glance

Governance: Partnership Model School, collaboration between Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, St. Joan of Arc Parish, archdiocesan Catholic Education Office

Where: Former St. Joan of Arc School, 5821 Pernod Ave, St. Louis, 63139

Leadership: Father Sebastian Mundackal (pastor, Our Lady of Sorrows); Father Craig Holway (pastor, St. Joan of Arc); Maureen DePriest (archdiocesan associate superintendent, elementary schools); Margaret Karl (archdiocesan director, city Catholic schools; Laura Hirschman (principal)

Faculty/staff: 20

Students: 256, including 18 in Junior Kindergarten (77 percent of student body is from St. Joan of Arc and Our Lady of Sorrows schools; 23 percent are a combination of new junior kindergarten/kindergarten students and transfers) 

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