Parents who send their children to St. Joseph Catholic School couldn’t be blamed for thinking the place would always be there for them.
The elementary school, 1300 Bridger Ave., opened in 1948 back when downtown was the valley’s hub. It seemed impervious to the ravages of time and dramatic changes in Southern Nevada and in recent years received a handsome makeover that includes a new athletic field and desert landscaping.
It never boasted a large student population, but according to officials, in recent years the enrollment had slipped. As the 2012-2013 school year comes to a close, 137 students are enrolled.
That is a fraction of the 800 to 1,200 students who attend many public elementary schools. But St. Joseph was never meant to be the largest or the flashiest school in town, just one of the best.
Through boom times and recession, it kept its doors open with the motto, “Educating Mind, Body and Spirit.” Many leading Las Vegans can trace their academic start to St. Joseph. It still receives high ratings from satisfied parents and students.
Now it’s closing.
Emotionally speaking, shutting down a school is like crash-landing an airplane. There are few ways to accomplish the task without someone’s feelings getting hurt. That’s the case with shuttering St. Joseph, the little school with the big legacy.
In a May 24 letter signed by school administrator the Rev. Dave Casaleggio and Principal Dr. James Machinski, a tone of sadness and grim economic reality was struck.
They offered, “It is with heavy heart that we bring this news to you. Despite our best efforts, we have no alternative, but to close the St. Joseph Catholic School at the end of the current academic year. His decision was the result of a painstaking, months-long review of enrollment numbers, financial capability as well as plant and facility needs. As you may know, declining enrollment numbers (resulting in lower income) has been a constant challenge. The leadership of the school and parish has done everything possible to keep our school open; but, as painful as this decision was to make, we know it was the right decision and, in the long run, in the best interest of our students.”
One stunned longtime observer of the school wonders aloud why the administration went to the time and expense of attempting to improve St. Joseph if it wasn’t intending to fight through the bum economic and sluggish enrollment. One reminds me enrollment hasn’t slid a great deal, but in recent years has remained essentially flat.
And I wonder whether St. Joseph’s successful alumni were notified about the school’s financial straits. Would they have been willing to pitch in out of a sense of nostalgia?
On Tuesday morning, principals from St. Christopher and St. Anne Catholic schools were scheduled to be on campus to meet with parents to discuss transferring students from St. Joseph in time for fall classes.
Where St. Joseph teachers and staff will end up remains an unanswered question.
In a media statement the Rev. Bob Stoeckig, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, said, “It greatly pains us to have to do this, but in looking forward to a healthy future, we must sometimes make difficult decisions and this has been one of the most difficult.”
The closure of St. Joseph comes at a time downtown is experiencing a dramatic redevelopment with large plots of land being bought and noticeable improvements in many neighborhoods. With its fresh paint and handsome yard, St. Joseph looks like it belongs in downtown’s future.
But the little school that has long held a big place in the hearts of students and parents is about to close its doors for good.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (702) 383-0295.