WESTFIELD – Changes to how St. Mary’s High School is run now that it is a diocesan school will be largely unnoticed by its 77 students and their families this year.
Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said Wednesday that the transition would be mainly behind the scenes this year.
Rozanski spoke with the press at the school during a news conference also attended by members of the parish.
St. Mary’s Elementary School will remain a parish school. Rozanski said the high school already serves the region and made more sense as a diocesan school. He wrote to parishioners this week that it was “unrealistic” for the parish to carry the burden of operating and funding two schools.
St. Mary’s High School Principal Matthew Collins noted that students from Easthampton, Southampton, Holyoke, Springfield, Granville, Southwick, Connecticut, Westfield and more now attend the school.
“The students are from all over the area,” Rozanski said.
The biggest change forthcoming is in the St. Mary’s Parish School Board. Instead of one board, there will be two; one for the elementary school and a diocesan board for the high school. The diocese will invite members to the board, including families of students and members of the community at-large.
Diocesan Superintendent Daniel Baillargeon said the board made major strides this past year and worked with consulting firm Management Solutions Northeast to create a strategic five-year plan.
“The current board has already done significant work,” Baillargeon said, adding that “when we’re talking about five-year plans we’re talking about stability.”
Baillargeon said keeping the school, which opened in 1898, running long into the future was a priority.
“We want to protect the vitality of the school,” he said. “That’s different from viability. We believe St. Mary’s is a vital part of Westfield.”
How the school could change moving forward is unknown. Baillargeon said there are many models for small Catholic schools, and they would explore what works best for the community. The diocese also operates Pope Francis High School in Springfield, which had 336 students last year.
Baillargeon said the administrators of both St. Mary’s High and Elementary schools have “done a great job” and would continue to work together.
Bringing the high school under diocesan control was a recommendation of the Pathways to Faith Commission.
Richard Labrie, of Westfield, was a member of the Commission and said Wednesday he felt good about the decision.
“I’m happy to see this come to fruition,” said Labrie. “It’s good to see the recommendations actualize.”
Labrie and his wife Kathy are longtime members of the St. Mary’s community. Their sons attended the schools and now they have four grandchildren in the elementary school.
“We want to see them get the quality education our children received,” said Labrie.
Current tuition for St. Mary’s High School is $8,350, according to Collins. Baillargeon said there are options for financial assistance and some funding help from other parishes.
Rozanski noted that it costs more to educate each student than what the school charges for tuition.
“That is not the total cost of education per student,” Rozanski said. “The cost per student is more than that. But I’d say that goes for all of our schools.”
St. Mary’s students return to school Aug. 29.
Hope E. Tremblay can be reached at [email protected]