Kennedy Catholic High School to close at end of school year

Teak Phillips | teakphillips@archstl.org
Related Articles: 

Quality hasn't been an issue for John F. Kennedy Catholic High School; its programs, teachers and, most of all, students are first rate. Quantity is another story, though, calling into question quality over the long haul.

After much discernment, Kennedy Catholic will close at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.

"We've served West County and these students for 48 years," said Father Richard Wosman, the president of JFK. "The students here now are top quality, but as we go forward, we just can't offer them the programs that allow them to achieve what they need for college and the rest of their lives."

Before the financial crisis of 2008, Kennedy Catholic enrollment held steady in the 374-396 range, but then fell 10 percent to 346 for the 2009-10 academic year. Enrollment again stabilized in the 328-348 range over the next four years, but has fallen the past three.

For the 2016-17 school year, only 33 freshmen are among Kennedy Catholic's 191 students, a 26.5 percent decline since last year and 42.6 percent over the past three years, according to statistics from the archdiocesan office of pastoral planning. Further, enrollment declines at feeder Catholic grade schools make enrollment projections problematic for Kennedy Catholic in the coming years.

"We want to have not only a good number of schools but strong, quality schools," said Kurt Nelson, the archdiocesan Superintendent of Catholic Education. "There comes a point, as you start to get smaller and smaller, that in order to sustain yourself you would have to start cutting budgets, but when you cut programs you can't attract students and the problem snowballs. Kennedy is a great school, but there are just not enough students."

Officials from Kennedy Catholic and the Catholic education office studied two possibilities: Keeping Kennedy open or closing it. The heart wanted the former, but reality determined the latter.

"Everybody we've talked to in this process, no one really enjoyed it," Nelson said. "Everyone has had a sense of regret, but when you look at, what other answer is there?"

According to Father Wosman, the optimal Kennedy Catholic enrollment is about 350.

"Then, it really works well," he said. "You can make it work if you get down to the 200 number, but below that, it gets really tough."

For what now becomes Kennedy Catholic's final school year, programs are remaining at previous levels, despite the enrollment decline. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson has committed the funding to maintain the school for the current students' benefit.

"Archbishop Carlson was very kind in saying we'll provide funding for this year, especially for our seniors," Nelson said. "We had to be able to be opened this year for the seniors; we're committed to this being one of the best years Kennedy has ever had. We really want the students to know we're not cutting anything this year. We have all the programs and everybody is giving their 110 percent to the end of June.

"As much as we're mourning the loss, we want to celebrate the great legacy of Kennedy and finish the year strong as a celebration."

In the coming days and weeks, Father Wosman will meet with individual students and their parents to help them plan for next year and beyond.

"We're going to place as many of our students as possible in Catholic schools," he said. "We'll place them properly and work with them on the finances."

Scholarships, including Beyond Sunday scholarships, and financial assistance will continue for Kennedy Catholic students who transfer to other archdiocesan high schools next year.

"Every scholarship agreement they had will be honored at the other archdiocesan-owned high schools, so families won't have to wonder about the cost to attend another archdiocesan high school," Nelson said. "We'll honor those commitments." In addition, the Catholic Education Office also will provide a $500 transition credit to any archdiocesan-owned high school to offset 2017-2018 fees, school uniforms, and other costs.

Kennedy Catholic will host a high school night, specifically for its students, on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Principals, guidance counselors and officials from other area Catholic high schools will be on hand to discuss with Kennedy students class requirements, etc., based on their course work to date at Kennedy.

With 26 other Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, including nine archdiocesan schools, Kennedy Catholic students have plenty of options to pursue Catholic education.

"We've put things in place to make the transition as easy as we can," Nelson said.

Despite the successful Annual Catholic Appeal and the ongoing Beyond Sunday, those campaigns aren't directly related to Kennedy Catholic as an institution but have been supporting Kennedy Catholic students.

"Fundraising efforts will continue to help Kennedy students at the other Catholic schools they go to," Nelson said. "So even though the Kennedy building is going away, we're still going to be helping provide a Catholic education; it just changes where they get the Catholic education."

And make no mistake, Kennedy Catholic students and teachers will be assets at their new schools. According to Nelson, the school recently received "a glowing accreditation report" and recently posted its best ACT scores in five years. Overall, St. Louis-area Catholic High schools averaged 24.7 on the ACT, 4.5 points above the average for public schools in Missouri.

"Kennedy has been so strong academically and faith-wise," Nelson said. "As those teachers and students go elsewhere, they'll bring those gifts and talents with them." 

Kennedy enrollment

Year; Students; Difference; Percent

2006-07; 396; NA; NA

2007-08; 374; -22; -5.5%

2008-09; 385; 11; 2.9%

2009-10; 346; -39; -10.1%

2010-11; 348; 2; 0.6%

2011-12; 342; -6; -1.7

2012-13; 328; -14; -4.3

2013-14; 333; 5; 1.5

2014-15; 313; -20; -6.6

2015-16; 260; -53; -16.9

2016-17; 191; -69; -26.5

Source: Office of Pastoral Planning 

No votes yet