De Smet Jesuit contemplates opening middle school
By: Sarah Wilson
Despite declining enrollments in Catholic high schools, De Smet Jesuit recently announced that it is considering opening up a middle school to supplement its high school campus.
“Basically we’re just in an exploratory state, but most of our exploration has to do with gathering data to make a good decision about whether or not to move forward with this middle school,” said Father Wally Sidney, president of De Smet Jesuit.
Sidney said nothing is definite yet, but the school hired a firm in Milwaukee, Wis., called Meitler, to perform research on whether to move forward or not.
“They’re going to do some work for us in trying to, first of all, find out if this kind of school is appealing to students and families if we offered this as an option. Are there families that would be interested in sending their sons here?” Sidney said.
He said the school currently is envisioning a middle school that would most likely consist of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders with 60 students per grade and 180 students total. The school would be “fairly small,” have its own faculty and administration and sit next to the high school campus.
“We think adding a middle school would be a win-win situation for the boys in the middle school as well as the boys in the high school,” Sidney said. “Middle school boys are a breed unto themselves; they’re not grade school kids, they’re not high school kids. Traditionally in Catholic school, they’ve always been kind of lumped in the same building as elementary kids. We feel they would do better if they were grouped with older boys rather than with younger, but in doing so, we’re responding to requests that we’ve had from our parents and our alums for a Jesuit middle school.
“We also want to respond to or be a part of the conversation and collaborate with other Catholic schools, grade schools and that, as we reconfigure ourselves to the changing times in which we live. These two things are what’s motivating us more than anything.”
The school held an informative meeting for parents on Jan. 22 and 24 to receive input and discuss any comments or concerns regarding the potential plans. Parents brought up topics such as how a middle school would affect other Catholic schools in the area, boys being in the same location with the same peers for seven consecutive years and additional tuition costs compared to public school.
Sidney said the school hopes to make a decision by the end of June. If it does decide to move forward with plans, it is anticipating an opening date of fall 2014.
“In the meantime, we’re talking with the archdiocese, with the Catholic school office, with the various Catholic grade schools and trying to understand their situation and how what we’re doing will impact them,” Sidney said.
“We know that they’re talking about changes, and we just want to be a part of the conversation. We certainly don’t want to do something that would dramatically have a negative impact on any of our schools. … There are just a lot of things to take into consideration. I think we really need to update ourselves and to really have data in order to make an informed decision for what would better serve the youth of the archdiocese.”