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St. Peter School regroups after difficult spring

Published: Monday, Sept. 1, 2014 9:34 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
St. Peter School first-grade teacher Maureen Quinn greets students on their first day Aug. 20 in Geneva.
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(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
St. Peter School students arrive for their first day of school Aug. 20 in Geneva.

GENEVA – A local Catholic school is in the process of rebuilding its student enrollment and its standing in the community after a tense period earlier this year.

St. Peter School, 1881 Kaneville Road, Geneva, started a new school year on Aug. 20 in good spirits but with fewer students in its classrooms compared to previous years.

There are about 300 students from preschool through eighth grade this year at St. Peter, said Larry Johnson, the school’s interim principal. During the 2013-14 school year, St. Peter had about 380 students, and during the 2012-13 school year, it had 461 students.

St. Peter ended the past two school years with different principals. In a May 9 letter to St. Peter School parents, the Rev. Martins Emeh of St. Peter Catholic Church wrote that he asked then-St. Peter Principal Marie Neis to resign. His decision came amid news of the declining enrollment, which resulted in all but the first and eighth grades switching to one classroom section each for students this year.

The turnover of leaders is likely one of many reasons why St. Peter’s enrollment has dropped, but Johnson said the decision for each family is personal and not easily generalized.

“We might have taken our lumps, but we are doing everything that we can to bring it back to its former glory,” Johnson said.

The past is one key element of the school’s strategy to thrive once more. The school wants to reconnect with its alumni and highlight the many success stories it has with former students.

Another part of the school’s plan is to have St. Peter students work toward becoming stewards of God through community service projects. The final piece rests with Johnson and the teachers – to provide the best education to students that they can.

Johnson said this year will be about keeping the school climate calm and steady. After that, the next few years will focus on getting families to return to the school and welcoming new ones.

Sister Liz Ryan, assistant principal at St. Patrick School, said her parish also would like to add more students at its buildings. St. Patrick’s Crane Road campus on St. Charles’ far west side can accommodate up to 800 students, she said.

St. Patrick on Aug. 27 started its 2014-15 school year with 638 students – 540 of them attend classes in its K-8 Crane Road building, and 98 more will start preschool services in the school’s downtown St. Charles building this week, Ryan said. 

St. Patrick’s K-8 school has hovered near 540 students for the past three years since the Crane Road building opened in 2011, Ryan said. Before that, Ryan said the school was “bursting at the seams” in the downtown building with preschool through eighth-grade students.

Holy Cross Catholic School in Batavia will expand its facilities this year. An addition with four new classrooms will open later this month, said Holy Cross Principal Tricia Weis.

Holy Cross enrollment this year is 418 students from preschool through eighth grade, Weis said. She confirmed that some Holy Cross students used to attend St. Peter School, but she said the majority come from public schools.

In some cases, students that used to attend St. Patrick might end up transferring to St. Peter School, and vice versa, Ryan said. Families could move or be transferred around the area, or they might opt for another school if their child is stuck on a waiting list at their initial school of choice, Ryan said.

Ryan said the local parochial schools are not in competition with one another and that they all exist to provide children an education with Catholic teachings.

“Faith is at the top of the list, and our academics are very strong,” Ryan said.

Elburn resident Garrett Burt said he looked at all three area Catholic schools a few years ago for his two sons before choosing St. Peter. He said St. Patrick and Holy Cross were nice, but felt the St. Peter curriculum and the teachers’ knowledge of it superseded the other schools.

Burt wants his sons to get a good education first and foremost, and he wasn’t happy at the conclusion of a May 22 school-wide parent meeting with Emeh, Johnson and the St. Peter staff in the St. Peter gym. Burt had pre-registered his sons for this school year, but considered withdrawing the paperwork given the recent exit of Neis as principal.

Burt said he was concerned at the time that the church and the Rockford Diocese would make decisions for the school, but he was reassured that Johnson would be allowed to lead. A lack of communication was replaced with an ongoing dialogue between Burt and Johnson about developing a team to further define the school’s mission for the next few years.

“I want [St. Peter School] to be the best for my kids and the kids that come after them,” Burt said.

The school has refined its virtual communications as well. This year, every grade is part of a parent portal where families can receive and send messages, as well as access grades and information about their children in one place.

Janine Augustyn of North Aurora has four children at St. Peter – two are in grades with two classroom sections, and two are in grades that use a co-teacher model. Co-teachers assist teachers by taking on some of the students in single-section grades so everyone can receive more individualized instruction in core subjects, such as math and language arts, Johnson said.

Augustyn said the last school year was a hard one for the community as it dealt with the transition to a new principal and changes in classroom size. She is grateful for Johnson’s efforts to turn things around.

The Augustyns enrolled their oldest child – now a college student – at St. Peter 16 years ago, and they don’t plan on leaving the school anytime soon.

“My kids love it here,” Janine Augustyn said. “It feels like home.”

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