- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An inner-city Catholic school considered for closure by the Archdiocese of Washington earlier this year will remain open with help from a major university.

Holy Redeemer Catholic School — a small school near the Sursum Corda neighborhood in Northwest — has formed a five-year partnership with the University of Notre Dame to bring more resources to the parish-based institution and strengthen its academic achievement.

The partnership will make Holy Redeemer one of just three schools in the country to join the prestigious Catholic university’s Magnificat initiative in hopes of improving all-around school performance.

“It seemed like a good fit,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. “The idea is to strengthen the school’s fundamentals so the school is successful on its own going forward.”

Notre Dame will provide the school with an instructional coach to work with teachers and $45,000 to help pay for classroom materials such as books, supplies and technology upgrades.

The South Bend, Ind., university also will assist the New Jersey Avenue school with financial planning and marketing, strengthening parental involvement and establishing a school board.

The archdiocese has already worked with the university’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, which runs the Magnificat initiative and trains teachers and principals to work in Catholic schools. Holy Redeemer also will use the ACE program when looking to fill staff openings.

“Notre Dame is grateful for this opportunity to demonstrate that a Catholic university can successfully partner with a parish school and help it excel academically and grow in holiness,” said the Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, director of the ACE program. “All of us in ACE believe that Catholic schools are at the heart of the church.”

The objective of the Magnificat initiative is for Holy Redeemer to run independently at the end of the five years.

Despite objections from Holy Redeemer parents and alumni, the archdiocese considered closing the school along with three others in January, in part because of financial problems and families leaving the city.

Catholic baby boomers moving to the suburbs and elsewhere contributed to a 41 percent decrease in enrollment in D.C. elementary schools run by the archdiocese from 1975 to 2005.

“The population is dropping, and the [Catholics] that are staying are single,” Miss Gibbs said.

Four of the archdiocese’s 108 schools are slated to close this year, she said. Officials initially opted to keep Holy Redeemer open and monitor it closely for progress, giving it a temporary reprieve but making its future uncertain.

The Rev. David A. Bava, pastor of the Holy Redeemer parish, then sought a way to stabilize the school for a longer time. Meanwhile, Notre Dame had begun its Magnificat program following a 2006 task force report that encouraged university involvement in Catholic education.

“It was kind of like the meeting of minds. The timing was right on both sides,” Father Bava said.

Tuition at Holy Redeemer, where many students come from nearby neighborhoods and 94 percent are black, costs $4,560 a child. The school, which opened more than 50 years ago, had an enrollment of 215 this past school year.

The two other schools in the Magnificat program are St. Ann Catholic School, in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and St. Adalbert School, in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana.

St. Ann officials used money from Notre Dame to buy textbooks to help students improve in reading.

St. Adalbert bought laptop computers for teachers, then Magnificat staffers taught them how to use the computers as a classroom instructional tool.

“For me, it’s an answer to prayer in terms of finding a higher power … coming in and helping us with some of our needs,” Father Bava said.

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