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Diocese of Gary schools keep the faith, hit high marks

Aquinas school students Katherine Dravet 14 (right) Kimani Krienke 12 (center) volunteer by cleaning up during soup kitchen St. Andrew's

Aquinas school students Katherine Dravet, 14, (right) and Kimani Krienke, 12, (center) volunteer by cleaning up during the soup kitchen at St. Andrew's Church in Merrillville, Ind. Sunday January 27, 2013. Catholic Schools Week begins Monday. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Diocese of Gary schools at a glance

Schools: 20 in Lake, Porter, LaPorte counties

Enrollment: 6,508

2011-12 A-F state report card

St. Patrick, Chesterton A

St. Mary, Crown Point A

St. Stanislaus, East Chicago D

St. Mary, Griffith B

St. Casimir, Hammond A

St. John Bosco, Hammond B

Our Lady of Grace, Highland A

Aquinas School at St. Andrew’s B

Notre Dame, Michigan City A

Queen of All Saints, Michigan City B

St. Stanislaus Kostka, Michigan City D

St. Thomas More, Munster A

Nativity of Our Savior, Portage A

St. John the Evangelist, St. John A

St. Michael, Schererville A

St. Paul, Valparaiso A

St. John the Baptist, Whiting B

Bishop Noll Institute, Hammond B

Andrean High School, Merrillville A

Marquette High School, Michigan City A

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Updated: March 1, 2013 7:12AM



Diocese of Gary Catholic schools typically post robust academic numbers.

Keeping their school doors open has been the troubling issue for local schools and Catholic schools across the nation as cost-conscious parents make tough education choices.

The diocese lost three schools last year — St. Bridget in Hobart, St. Edward in Lowell and St. Joseph in LaPorte.

This year, Diocesan Schools Superintendent Barbara O’Block says the remaining 20 schools with 6,508 students in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties appear to be on sound financial footing as they begin their celebration of Catholic Schools Week on Monday.

“It looks like everybody is in strong shape,” O’Block said. “A lot of schools in north Lake have accepted a good number of ‘Choice Scholars’ (vouchers). There’s been a lot of intake in sixth grade.”

Of the three schools that closed last year, O’Block said their voucher numbers were low.

O’Block referred to Indiana’s Choice Scholarship voucher program that began in 2011. The state Supreme Court is weighing the constitutionality of the program that has pumped new students and dollars into faith-based and private schools. The state provides up to $4,500 to parents, depending on income, for tuition. This year, about 9,000 students are attending schools with state vouchers. Next year, the cap of 15,000 vouchers statewide will be lifted.

In the Diocese of Gary, O’Block said about 12 percent or 813 students have vouchers.

This year, Catholic Schools Week coincides with National School Choice Week.

“Raise the Standards” is the theme of this week’s Catholic school celebration.

O’Block said schools are aligning their curriculums to the Common Core standards, a set of national benchmarks that Indiana has pledged to follow. Under the guidance of Loyola University, a list of standards for Catholic schools that dovetails with Common Core was released last year, O’Block said.

“We emphasize academics, then governance and leadership, and Catholic identity,” O’Block said.

Academically, the lowest grade received by a diocesan school for 2011-12 for Common Core standards was a D. O’Block said that grade was challenged, but it stood. Twelve schools received A’s and six got B’s. St. Patrick in Chesterton is an Indiana Four-Star school, based on academic performance.

Schools are busy this week with open houses, special Masses, fundraisers and other programs.

On Monday, students at Aquinas School at St. Andrew’s in Merrillville will be donating hair care products for the Sojourner Truth House in Gary. They’re allowed to “dress down” and show off a hair design during the day.

Aquinas Principal Bruce Schooler said the school is hosting a grandparents day and two Merrillville Town Council members will read to students during the week.

“We are very fortunate that all our kids are here and somebody is sacrificing for them to be here,” Schooler said.

Aquinas students earn community service hours all year long at programs like St. Andrew’s soup kitchen.

Schooler said the school has 37 voucher students who he tracks carefully. “Academically, it’s run the gamut,” he said of their academic standing.

St. Paul Catholic School in Valparaiso, now in its 145th year, is the lone diocesan school that doesn’t accept voucher students. Principal Jane Scupham said she wants to see how the lawsuit plays out in court before opening admission.

Activities at the school this week include a hotly contested volleyball match between teachers and eighth-graders. “They look forward to it all year,” said Scupham.

Students are also holding a Penny Parade to raise money for their chosen charity, Phoenix House, an organization that offers grief support for children in Valparaiso.



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