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Parents air concerns at St. John meeting last night

Enrollment plan of action set, renewed support pledged
Emotions ran high last night at a meeting at St. John Catholic School where concerned parents and other community members gathered to determine the fate of the facility after confusion over a presentation given during Sunday’s mass.
That presentation by St. John pastor Father Edison Vela implored parish members to help drum up enrollment or the school could not remain open. Some audience members who heard his call to arms believed its implication was an ultimatum for the school to register more than 100 students by May 28 or the school would close.
Deep concern for the upcoming year was apparent as dissatisfied parents and others discussed the deadline that looms in less than a week’s time.
One by one parents addressed a four-man panel, made up of St. John High School principal Chris Rebuck, Father Edison Vela, School Advisory Council President Laddy Rejcek and School Advisory Council member Adam Gamble.
“The St. John family has shown we can handle obstacles,” said parent Les Bell. “We overcame the financial burden last year and we can overcome this hurdle too but we need more than a few days to do it. Why can’t we push the deadline back so we have at least 30 days to come up with a plan? Our kids love it here, they want to stay, we want them to stay, but we need more time to meet this deadline.”
Father Vela addressed the crowd regarding the May 28 deadline and apologized for the misunderstanding caused by his presentation Sunday.
“Since March when we started registration, we had only 89 students registered as of last Sunday and I became worried,” Vela said. “I thought and reflected about what path I needed to take to ask for your help in bringing more students to the school and I organized the presentation. The school needs all of our help to get more students here and that is what I wanted to say, I do apologize if anyone felt confused about anything I said.”
Vela went on to say that the May 28 deadline was only meant to signify the day he has to give a status update to the Dallas diocese and the future of the school was not specifically tied to it.
Rejcek further clarified Vela’s position, the latter asking others to translate for him, explaining English is not his first language.
“The board and I have discussed options for balancing the budget with a lower number of students and we can make it work if we have to,” Rejcek went on. “However, enrollment has been down and I am embarrassed at the number of students currently enrolled. We are giving a great education at a price much lower than other Catholic schools and we need to be conscious of registration. I believe the negativity that has been going on within the school for the last year has taken its toll and I can assure you that I have spoken with Father Vela and the advisory council and we intend to address it and take care of it.”
Rebuck also addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support of the school over the years and asking them to please continue it in his absence as he resigns to take a position elsewhere.
“I would like to clear up a rumor tonight about my leaving,” Rebuck said. “I had no inside information about the school closing or the information that was presented last weekend and my leaving has nothing to do with that. I have learned so much from my time at the school and now it is time for me and my family to move on and for me to further my education from working with a larger administration. I am in no way leaving a failing school and my decision to leave has nothing to do with the school, it is just the best decision for my family.”
Parents like Jessica Diaz offered suggestions as to how the enrollment situation could be remedied.
“I would like to have another statement given in church this weekend that specifically reaches out to the parents with kids not enrolled in St. John,” Diaz said. “The Faith Formation classes are great but they don’t give the religious education needed on a daily basis that the kids who go to St. John get.”
Other suggestions offered were to advertise the school more, reaching out to other cities with the positive features the school has to offer. It was also asked that Father Vela spend more time at the school, that he promote the school more during mass and that he proactively pursue damage control over the panic created this week by his presentation.
School advisory council member Adam Gamble explained some options the council has been considering to bring up enrollment figures and to deal with other concerns over the school’s future.
“We have approached Corsicana and Waxahachie as well as other areas to bus students who are on a waiting list to get into their schools to come to ours, and we have received very positive feedback,” Gamble said. “We are also talking about hiring a part time marketing person to help promote the school to help bring in new students. What we need from everyone here to help us ease concerns about the school’s future is to stay positive, get your students registered and tell everyone you know that we are here to stay and have a great school for parents to bring their children to.”
The crowd was given the good news of an increase in enrollment since the presentation on Sunday with the number jumping from 89 students registered to 118 as of last night.
One audience member stood up to thank Father Vela for the presentation, defending him against previous comments concerning the priest’s initial handling of the situation.
“We are all here tonight because Father Vela was the only one awake on the watch,” Ken Williams said. “He saw that we were down in enrollment and instead of waiting until it was too late to fix, he took a step forward to handle it. We are behind in enrollment and he is looking at that in advance. He needs to be commended for doing that.”
The more than two hour meeting ended with those in attendance satisfied with answers given by the panel and the clearly stated plan of action was in place. Audience members said they appreciated that a more clearly stated plan of action was in place and many pledged to work toward increasing the enrollment, agreeing that parents and council must also strive for better communication in the future.
Individuals wishing to address the issue further were urged to contact Vela or Rebuck tomorrow.

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Posted by on May 23 2008. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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