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Bishop approves Duluth school plan

Unifies Catholic schools, creates path for high school

Bishop Paul Sirba, at a press conference Jan. 20, announced that he had accepted a plan that will bring the city’s four Catholic schools into a single school with multiple campuses, also offering a path toward Catholic high school education in Duluth for the first time since the closing of Cathedral School decades ago.

That course of action was the consensus recommendation he had received from the Duluth Area Catholic Schools board the night before, after the board had considered the plan, the result of the Called To Be One planning process that had been going on for several months.

“I believe this is an exciting prospect for our schools and moves us towards the realization of a dream people have been sharing with me ever since I was named the bishop of Duluth — being able to offer a continuum of education pre-K through 12 for our families,” he said at the press conference.

The plan divides up classes among three of the four campuses currently used by Catholic schools in Duluth — at St. James, Holy Rosary and St. John. The campus at St. James will provide elementary and middle school grades for the western part of the city, the campus at Holy Rosary will provide elementary grades in the eastern part of the city, and the campus at St. John will offer middle school and ultimately high school classes. The campus at St. Michael’s Lakeside is not used in the plan.

Bishop Sirba said that the primary factor both in the decision not to use the St. Michael’s campus and to put middle school and high school grades at St. John was the state of the facilities themselves.

He acknowledged that while the plan is hopeful good news, it also brings “change and sacrifice,” as well as “pain and loss.” While all the campuses will be affected, St. Michael’s will feel it especially. “I hope and pray that we as a community of faith reach out to any who are feeling the loss and accompany them on this journey,” he said.

Bob Lisi, who with Hilaire Hauer led the planning team, said the process kicked off in February 2016 and involved hundreds of people. There were more than 600 responses to an initial survey conducted in the fall, and many also participated through planning retreats and focus groups through two draft proposals.

The planning committee had recommended implementing the plan by the beginning of the next school year in September, but after discussions with the board, Bishop Sirba took a more flexible, “as soon as possible” approach. He said the first steps — a search for a new president and governing board for the new school — would begin immediately, and “best case scenario” to have the rest of the plan in place by the fall.

The new school will get its new name in a process within the school community itself, officials said.

The plan to introduce high school classes is to introduce them as students are ready to move into them, beginning with the ninth grade, perhaps as early as this fall.

Bishop Sirba said he had been following the process closely and participating in some of its events himself, and he expressed his gratitude to all those who had participated in it.

“From the outset we have made every effort to make this process open, inclusive and transparent,” he said. “Hundreds of people from across the city have taken up that invitation. You have blessed us with your gifts and your love of Catholic education, and I ask you to now redouble your efforts to make this new endeavor the blessing to the community I know it can be.”

— By Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross