Fearful that Catholic archdiocesan officials would close their parish's elementary school, a group of parents and community members in the north suburbs of Chicago are taking over operations of the school.
The Chicago Tribune reports that beginning in the 2019-20 school year, St. Joan of Arc School in Skokie, Ill., will become Academy of St. Joan of Arc and will operate as a Catholic school independent of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Parishioners and community members have raise thousands of dollars and formulated a plan to create an independent board to run the school. In recent weeks, Cardinal Blase Cupich has given the group his blessing.
Over the decades, the number of Catholic schools in the Chicago area has plummeted as enrollment has fallen. The archdiocese had 429 elementary schools in 1965; by 2017 that number had shrunk to 181.
At St. Joan of Arc, enrollment has gradually decreased over the years. In 2014-15, there were 240 students attending, according the Illinois State Board of Education. By 2017-18, the number had decreased to 202.
Because of the enrollment drop, the school was running a deficit, which is why the archdiocese was considering closing it, says Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
Community members considered merging the school with another parish as well as making it an independent Catholic school. The archdiocese was receptive to the idea of forming an independent governing board to run the school.
Jim Rigg, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, says he wished the school the “best of success.”
When the school opens in the fall, a nine-person governing board will oversee it. The board will consist of three people, such as parents, from the school community; three members of the parish community; two people with a background in education; and a representative of the archdiocese.
The governing board will pay rent to the parish for the school space. It has raised more than $900,000 from private donors, says Steve King, who will be board chairman.
So far, parents have pre-enrolled 155 students to start at the school in the fall.