Partnering with Dominican, St. Edmund seeks reprieve

? The elementary school needs to up enrollment, which it hopes to do at a Thursday open house.

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By DREW CARTER

Just weeks after being told the school would close, officials at St. Edmund School in Oak Park find themselves trying to boost enrollments.

They are wooing parents back and hoping to attract new students in hopes that a Dominican University-led partnership may reverse the Archdiocese of Chicago's decision and become a new model in Catholic education.

"Yes, we do have a plan afoot to keep the school open, and it's looking very promising," said Rev. John McGivern, pastor of St. Edmund parish, 188 S. Oak Park Ave. "We are exploring a relationship with Dominican University, and if we are open, we will be able to utilize their educational resources."

The partnership, if successful, could become a model for Catholic schools, said Dominican President Donna Carroll.

"It's exactly the type of partnership that Dominican is committed to developing," Carroll said.

Just how the partnership would work and whether the school will be allowed to stay open have yet to be decided.

Right now, St. Edmund officials are trying to maintain their enrollment commitments for next school year, and hoping to increase them by attracting students from other Catholic schools tapped for closure.

It will host an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday to promote the school and attract newcomers.

Carroll said Dominican approached St. Edmund with the proposal after officials there heard of the archdiocese's decision to close the K-8 school because of lagging enrollment.

Surely Dominican could contribute student teachers, business plan advice and other logistical support, but Carroll hoped that mainly Dominican's commitment to help would be seen as a voice of confidence to the archdiocese and to parents seeking to enroll their students there.

"Hopefully Dominican's stepping up will be a confidence-building piece," Carroll said. "The most important thing right now is for that school to give its parents and perspective parents confidence so they can maintain and grow their enrollment."

She said that ordinarily the schools wouldn't be so public about such a proposed move, but are doing so to help attract students.

"We're in the process of talking to parents and getting them to jump on board," McGivern said.

Carroll did not know whether Dominican would commit to financial support, but said the partnership would lend itself to fundraising opportunities.

Dominican could use St. Edmund as a lab school of sorts, giving its faculty and students the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of running a Catholic school, Carroll said.

The partnership makes sense between two schools in the same community with similar missions. And it didn't hurt that the school's principal, Sister Collette Mary White, is from the Sinsinawa Dominican order, the same that supports the university, Carroll said.

Carroll plans to call the archdiocese to discuss exactly what the university's commitment would look like under a partnership.

"We'll try to pout some teeth on that commitment in the not-too-distant future," she said.

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced two weeks ago that St. Edmund and 22 other Chicagoland Catholic elementary schools would close because of declining enrollments. St. Edmund's has 165 students this year.
CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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