Elementary schools in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown will be studied by a committee appointed by Bishop Mark Bartchak to ensure the Catholic education in the diocese is strong and efficient in the future.
Diocese spokesman Tony DeGol sought to emphasize that the study was initiated because Bartchak has been impressed with the schools. The study was not commissioned with an aim to close schools, he said.
"The bishop was very impressed with all of the schools when he visited them last year. He saw they were faith-filled and dedicated to doing a good job of serving kids and families," DeGol said. "The study isn't to see if we should be closing schools," he said.
The committee consists of 14 members representing a broad range of educational expertise and geographical areas of the diocese.
Bartchak has instructed them to consult with parents, teachers and pastors of churches with schools and without schools on subjects including faith formation, governance, finances, enrollment, curriculum, technology, facilities, extracurricular activities, marketing and development.
"We don't know what the committee will find," DeGol said.
The Rev. Leo F. Arnone, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Cresson and All Saints Catholic School, Cresson
Kathy Bechdel, principal of Our Lady of Victory School, State College
The Rev. James F. Crookston, rector of St. John Gualbert Cathedral Parish in Johnstown, which is affiliated with Cathedral Catholic Academy, Johnstown
Michael Dillon, retired educational consultant
Monsignor David A. Lockard, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish and School, State College
Joseph Macharola, director of Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8
Frank Montecalvo, vice president of student development at St. Francis University, Loretto
Ed Phister, president of the School Council at St. Michael School, Loretto
Renee Phister, teacher at St. Michael School, Loretto
Sister Mary Lee Przybylski, Felician Sisters, principal of Northern Cambria Catholic School, Nicktown
Kenneth Salem, principal of Bishop McCort Catholic High School, Johnstown
The Rev. Frank Scornaienchi, Third Order Regular of St. Francis, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Altoona and Altoona Central Catholic School
Thomas Weimer, member of the Diocesan Finance Council
J. Douglas Wolf, member of the Board of Trustees of Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School, Altoona
The four high schools linked to the diocese are independently governed as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and will not be included in the study, DeGol said.
By spring, the committee will report to Bartchak on their findings.
The diocese allowed members to comment on the study, but members contacted deferred comment to DeGol.
Private as well as public schools face challenges of maintaining enrollment, balancing finances and adapting curriculum to an increasingly technological environment, DeGol said.
"We need to stay competitive, but we also need to make sure we are operating efficiently. Are we getting the most for our dollar?" he asked.
Bartchak visited each of the diocese's 20 elementary schools in 2011-12, a year when Altoona-Johnstown was the only diocese in the state to have increased enrollment in elementary and secondary levels. Overall enrollment at the diocese has decreased "slightly less" from last year, DeGol said.
"The schools are doing well and we want to continue to see the schools thrive. Our hope is that enrollment stays steady and grows," he said.
"The study is something the bishop feels is appropriate right now - not two years from now, not five years from now - to make sure these schools have a bright future."
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.