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Duluth Diocese considers new Catholic high school

The Duluth Diocese is considering restructuring existing Catholic schools in Duluth and possibly opening a Catholic high school in the city for the first time in more than 40 years. The board of Duluth Area Catholic Schools last week approved the...

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The Duluth Diocese is considering restructuring existing Catholic schools in Duluth and possibly opening a Catholic high school in the city for the first time in more than 40 years.

The board of Duluth Area Catholic Schools last week approved the hiring of a consultant that will help form a vision and plan for unifying its current schools - by creating a single citywide school with multiple campuses - with a goal of adding a high school option.

For several years, parents have asked for a continuum of education through the 12th grade, said Cynthia Zook, director of schools for the diocese.

"What we're hearing from our parents is (that) our mission here in forming students according to the teachings of Jesus Christ is harder to do in this day and age, and it's more relevant than ever, as the world presents its ever-changing challenges to us," she said. "That's why some parents have been encouraging us to take a look at the high school option."

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The diocese's current Duluth schools are the pre-K-8 St. James Catholic School in West Duluth, the K-8 Holy Rosary School in Congdon Park, the pre-K-5 St. John's Catholic School in Woodland and the pre-K-5 St. Michael's Lakeside School. Under the current model, each school is governed by an individual or cluster of parishes and operates with its own faculty, staff, administrator and advisory boards and commissions.

"We see the possibility, and we think it's a very real possibility, that we are going to be stronger together than as separate schools," said the Rev. Peter Muhich of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, the parish for Holy Rosary School. "Years ago, the parochial model worked really well, where you had a parish school that was supported by a parish that was large enough with enough children to fill that school. Things have changed since then."

Some of the Duluth schools have experienced declining enrollment, he said, but the idea is also about serving a wider community. People sometimes perceive a Catholic school as only serving those who attend its church, he said.

A study - which will include looking at demographics - will be completed during the next year to help determine whether to keep each of the four schools open. It also will look at combining school governance and curriculum, and where a high school might be located and how it would look. The existing schools this year have a combined enrollment of 612 students. The hope is to keep each school open, Zook said, but that hasn't yet been decided.

This year there are 34 eighth-graders enrolled in the two K-8 schools. A new high school would begin with freshmen only, with new grades added one year at a time. The idea is to retain the students already in Catholic schools while also drawing new students, Zook said.

She said the move to hire a consultant isn't necessarily about declining enrollment or money but about providing the best Catholic education for students. That could mean pooling resources and staff to strengthen curriculum and allowing teachers to work together more closely, Zook said.

For example, instead of several part-time music or art teachers, one full-time teacher could be hired and shared by each of the schools.

"It would give our schools more constant and ongoing stability," she said.

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Hilaire Hauer's daughters attended St. Michael's Lakeside. The idea of a Catholic high school in Duluth, she said, fits into a long-term, big-picture vision for the diocese and area families.

"I see this process as a step in continually strengthening our Catholic identity and education options," she said, and would result in a choice for parents that's been long sought. "I feel the continuity in faith formation through high school is really important even for the future of our parishes."

The hope, Muhich said, is to roll out a plan in fall 2017.

A lot is changing in the world of education, he said, and "standing still doesn't sound like a good idea."

The Duluth Diocese had a high school in Duluth beginning in 1904, on East Fourth Street. What was known as Cathedral High School later moved to Rice Lake Road, and it was sold in 1971 to become what is known today as Marshall School.

There are 11 schools within the Duluth Diocese. Proctor's pre-K-6 St. Rose School was closed in 2013 because of declining parish membership and school enrollment.

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