St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy to close

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CENTRAL FALLS — Principal Doreen Engel said that while she is “deeply saddened” she was unable to prevent the closing of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Academy, she is also optimistic about the future.

Last week, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s Catholic School Office announced that the school, which opened in 1995 from the combined resources of three parish schools in Central Falls to serve kindergarteners through eighth-graders, will close at the end of the academic year due to a rapid decline in enrollment and increased financial deficits. News of the closure was shared with faculty, staff and parents by letter, followed by an informational meeting for parents that was held at the school.

“I am very grateful that the announcement has been made at this time so that our students, parents, faculty and staff can plan what is best for their future,” Engel told the Rhode Island Catholic, also noting that she is confident her “wonderful faculty will quickly be invited to join the faculty at other Catholic schools.”

According to a press release, every effort will be made to place students at other area Catholic schools, including St. Theresa, St. Cecelia and Woodlawn Catholic Regional School, which are all located in Pawtucket. Teachers and staff will be provided priority hiring status at other Catholic schools in Rhode Island.

“The principals of St. Cecilia, St. Teresa, Woodlawn, and I are working very closely together so that children who would like to attend Catholic school nearby have the smoothest transition possible,” said Engel, pointing out that the schools are planning combined events such as dances, sports outings and field trips to give students an opportunity to become acquainted. “We are, of course, also recommending Catholic schools throughout the diocese.”

The press release cited that “a steady decline in enrollment from a high of 244 in 2007 to 101 in 2013 placed an unsustainable financial burden on the school, which opened this year with 50 less students, or a loss of one-third of the student body, than last year. The decline is attributed primarily to the economy, unemployment and inadequate financial aid.”

Bishop J. Tobin, who recently approved the school’s closing, said the decision to close a Catholic school is always difficult and painful for all those who love and support the school.

“It is a sad moment for me and for our diocesan family,” said Bishop Tobin. “It is my hope and prayer that all of the current students of Seton Academy will have the opportunity to continue their Catholic education at other nearby Catholic schools in the area. I have committed the Diocese of Providence to assist with this effort by providing financial support for the students in their transition to other Catholic schools.”

Catholic School Superintendent Dan Ferris agrees that it is a big loss. He described Seton Academy as a “true community of faith and learning.

“The students have been blessed with exceptionally caring and devoted teachers,” said Ferris. “And they’ve flourished. But in the end, in spite of everything we tried that was reasonably and creatively possible, we were unable to find a path to keep the school viable.”

Moving forward, Engel is encouraging parents to learn about Rhode Island Families For School Choice, an initiative that would give parents the freedom to choose a school that best meets the needs of their children, as well as provide them with financial vouchers to ease costs.

“I hope that many families will join me in participating in Rhode Island Families For School Choice, so that parents statewide can have the option of choosing whatever school they think would be best for their child, without having to worry that they cannot pay even a modest tuition,” Engel said.

The Diocesan Office of Human Resources will assist faculty and staff affected by the school closure with career assistance resources.