To describe Cathedral and St. Augustine schools requires a thesaurus for the words “fresh” and “new.” Students will encounter a new bus system, new uniforms, fresh paint and fresh faces while combating the typical first-day-of-school jitters.
The changes at St. Mary’s, St. Augustine and Cathedral schools may seem substantial to the little ones on the first days of the 2015-2016 school year. But parents and teachers are excited and are certain the students will be, too, by the changes coming with the merger of the schools, now known as the collective Notre Dame.
The move to consolidate the schools under the Notre Dame umbrella means a greater ability to focus on each age group’s needs, they say.
“You don’t have that luxury if all the grades are together,” said Principal Linda Hobbs of Cathedral Notre Dame.
Hobbs is excited that each campus will be able to focus on particular levels.
“On this campus for example … everything is focused on reading and math. There will be two reading specialists on staff to focus on reading interventions and making the entire program run smoothly.”
Cathedral will have two teachers who cover reading in the morning; one of them moves to teaching other classes in the afternoon. Both were fulltime classroom teachers last year, Hobbs said.
One teacher retired at the end of the last school year from Cathedral.
Sandy Baechle, principal of Notre Dame St. Augustine, said teachers should be familiar to returning students.
“Many of my teachers that were upper-grade teachers would move … and I have some teachers coming from Cathedral, and some present from SMSA,” Baechle said.
Parents of lower-grade students weren’t too concerned about a faculty of unfamiliar faces for their children.
“My daughter is going to Cathedral Campus for summer care, and there are some other little things” that have introduced her daughter to other teachers, said Parent Kari Tutza, of Belleville.
Students in that younger age range have a single new teacher every year anyway, Tutza said.
“I look at it as, ‘OK, more kids, more friends, more opportunities,’” she said. “You’ve got to roll with the changes, and kids come back so quickly.”
“I was excited from the beginning. I thought it was kind of cool, but you’ve got to remember we’ve only been with the school for three years. I think some of the other parents who have been through the first merger were kind of like, ‘Oh no, not this again.’”
Onward and upward is the theme at the Coats’ household, too.
“They were obviously upset when the heard the school was closing and we’d be merging,” said mother Christ Coats, whose children will be moving to Cathedral instead of finishing at St. Mary’s.
“It was true in what Father’s preaching, that children will lead the way. My son is sad that he won’t be graduating from SMSA but he’s the first graduating class in the new school.”
Coats herself attended St. Mary’s from kindergarten through eighth grade, and is a parishioner at St. Mary’s. She said she’ll continue to be involved with SMSA because it’s her parish.
Previously, Cathedral uniforms had red, white and black, and SMSA featured navy blue and gray, said Baechel.
“The new uniform has all of those colors in it, in the plaid,” Baechel said. She said boys’ uniforms haven’t changed much because navy blue slacks are still required. The uniforms are available at www.justmeapparel.com/.
“Next year will be a transition year. We have a new uniform for Notre Dame Academy, however ... if they still have their uniform (from Cathedral or SMSA) and it still fits them, then they can wear that,” Baechel said.
Coats was on one of the committees that helped with policy adjustments for the schools. Her family had also been attending the schools during the St. Mary-St. Augustine merger.
“It’s different the second time around, been there done that, you know it’s going to be OK,” she said.
The campuses are about three miles apart, so Notre Dame will have a bus that shuttles children from one campus to the other. Families with children at both campuses will need to drop off or pick up their children at one campus.
“The shuttle will leave (SMSA) at 7:30 a.m. and will have any fifth- through eighth-graders,” Baechel said. “And any younger children dropped off (at Cathedral) will then board the bus and be back here by 8 a.m. for assembly.”
Baechele said the schools have a contract for the bus service, but that extra cost is being absorbed by Notre Dame.
She said the tuition cost did go up for her campus a “nominal” amount, about $200.
“It’s still a bargain compared to many other schools,” she said.
One of the highlights Baechle pointed out was access to the science lab for the younger students. Now that the older students are at Cathedral, those science labs are available to students in grades K-4.
“It’s not common practice that the younger kids get the lab,” she said. Teachers used to have to gather microscopes or other equipment to bring it back to their classrooms, and because of that might hesitate to teach such things, Baechel said. That will no longer be the case.
Cathedral students will be getting Chromebooks to assist with learning.
“It seems most of our curriculum runs smoother with the laptops than the iPads,” Hobbs said. “And all the textbook companies are going to interactive.”
“Since we’re going to Notre Dame Academy, we’re trying to come up with something different for just the middle school (fifth through eighth grades),” she said.
Hobbs said the “biggest jump” the students will make is switching classes. “That’s what they always seem to be nervous about but also most excited about,” she said.
Another thing Cathedral is doing to facilitate learning is making another classroom, social studies, arranged with tables and chairs for collaborative learning rather than desks in rows.
“It’s a new school and we can direct it any way we want and be involved,” Coats said. Having already been through one merger, she wants to take cues from the legacy but move on to the more important things of education.
Tutza has great expectations for parent involvement at the schools.
“When we started at SMSA, they just opened their arms to us,” she said.
“They seem to be meshing well with ideas,” she said. “You want to be comfortable with where your child is.”