Combining Altoona Central Catholic School's middle school classes with those at the St. Rose of Lima Parish school may be followed by more changes to Catholic schools in Blair County.
"In my opinion, in the future there will be a number of elementary schools and one middle school," ACCS pastor, the Rev. Frank Scornaienchi, said to more than 100 parents and teachers in attendance at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church hall on Thursday.
By March 1, governance boards of priests, educators, business leaders and parents, Scornaienchi said, will be formed for all four of the diocese's recently structured school quadrants.
Consolidation will be in the hands of those boards.
He said a combined school system would likely be under one name - "maybe Father Frank's," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd, though the overall tone of the meeting was serious, especially regarding the financial outlook of combining St. Mary and St. Rose of Lima classes. Teachers said it's unclear whether finances would necessitate more elementary closures to put the diocese's schools on sure financial footing.
"Financially, it could be make or break," a teacher said. ACCS families with a middle school and elementary school child will split their fundraising obligations between the St. Therese ACCS elementary campus and St. Rose of Lima.
"Who walks into something blindly without knowing the cost of it?" a teacher said, wary that funds raised for both schools could suffer because of families' split revenue.
"I do," Scornaienchi said, having previously stated that he "didn't have the kind of time" to examine the financial outlook of the merger that was put into motion by the determination that immediate building repairs required at St. Mary's were unaffordable.
"I'm hoping it works out."
Tony Conrad, parent of a St. Mary's eighth-grader, urged ACCS and diocese leaders to take note from how public school districts including Glendale Area and Claysburg-Kimmel have combined middle school and high school levels in one building.
"Catholic schools are circling their wagons. Let's plan and not always feel like we are losing something," he said. He suggested moving the middle school grades under the umbrella of the area's high school, Bishop Guilfoyle.
St. Rose of Lima pastor, the Rev. Brian Saylor, assured parents that his parish's school building has features including a science lab
that middle school students need.
"We are looking to make the best environment possible. What the future holds, I don't know," he said. "but right now, we are working to prepare children for high school."
Diocese Director of Education Sister Donna Marie Leiden said the diocese has already started studying middle school test results to bridge middle school and high school level curriculum.