St. Edmund attracting new students with open houses

? School community hopes larger enrollment, proposed partnership with Dominican University, will help keep school open.

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Saving St. Edmund School

Maureen McDonald-Loose grew up in Oak Park and graduated from St. Edmund School in 1984, the first of her four siblings to do so.

A generation later, the Berwyn resident plans to send four of her seven children to St. Edmund in the fall?#34;that is, if the school can persuade the Archdiocese of Chicago to reverse its decision to close the school at the end of the school year.

Hope is growing among some St. Edmund School parents and officials that improved enrollment and a proposed partnership with Dominican University might save the school.

"We're feeling more positive everyday as we've gotten more enrollees," said Mary Prudence, a school board member. "We're very hopeful."

At an open house last week, students gave new parents tours of the building, and teachers, school board members, the principal and pastor were all there to sing the school's praises, including before- and after-school daycare.

The event to attract new students brought in about 20 parents who expressed "real interest" in sending their kids to St. Edmund next fall, said Rev. John McGivern, St. Edmund pastor.

McGivern said that if the school can confirm 160 to 170 students for next fall, he expects it will be allowed to stay open. This year's enrollment was 165, but some parents?#34;less than 20?#34;could not pay tuition. Those families will not be invited back in the fall, McGivern said.

Another open house on Thursday, March 17, will offer new parents and ones already at the school the chance to enroll their students.

McDonald-Loose's kids attend St. Mary of Celle, 1448 Wesley Ave., just blocks from their home. But St. Mary was also one of the 23 parochial schools tapped for closure in February by the archdiocese, leaving parents looking for new schools.

"It was the obvious choice for me," McDonald-Loose said, after the family received a letter from St. Edmund inviting them to come to Oak Park for a tour and offering in-parish tuition rates for their students.

Long-term solution needed

But the archdiocese doesn't want the hopeful to get carried away.

"It's not just about enrollments," said Jim Dwyer, archdiocese spokesman. "The enrollment didn't fall overnight at any of these schools we closed."

A sudden spike in enrollment could easily dissipate and wouldn't solve other problems schools chosen for closure have, he said, including parish support and solid financial footing.

"The key is long-term viability," Dwyer said. He would not comment on the proposed partnership with Dominican University other than to say the archdiocese had "no problem entertaining" the proposal.

Dominican University has pledged support for St. Edmund School, hoping to lend educational resources and to use the elementary school as a "lab school" for faculty and students in its School of Education.

Having only tuition-paying students at the school will ensure long-term viability because the school won't run deficits, McGivern said.

The push to up enrollments is a continuation of a school year-long effort by parishioners and parents, who "worked tirelessly to promote the wonders that are St. Edmund," Prudence said.

"The Dominican plan kind of gave us legs," she said.

A homecoming of sorts

Kakie Conroy-Lovass, a preschool teacher at St. Edmund for 30 years, said what's changed the most about the school is its student body, which "has changed immensely and for the good. It reflects the changes in the village."

But with all the change, much of the student body has remained within some of the same families Conroy-Lovass taught years ago. She now sees children, younger siblings, nieces and nephews of students who have gone through St. Edmund.

In many ways, coming to St. Edmund for a tour last week was a coming home for McDonald-Loose. She remembered classrooms, caught up with Conroy-Lovass, and showed her kids her picture and pictures of other relatives in a hallway where photos of every graduating class are posted.

"I think it'll help make the transition so much easier," she said. She plans to send a preschooler, first-grader, fourth-grader and sixth-grader to St. Edmund in the fall.

"It's very exciting for me. I feel like I'm back at school, too."

Another open house is scheduled for 6-9 p.m. on March 17. St. Edmund hopes to hear a final decision on keeping the school open before the end of the month. School officials encourage interested parents to call 386-5131 soon, wanting to have as many enrollment commitments as possible before March 21.

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