St. Leonard School plans to close at the end of the year

Caitlin Ousley, a middle school science teacher at St. Leonard School, listened as students, from left, Dia Chase, Maggie Walsh, Hayden Greer and Morry Owen worked together April 19, 2018, at the school on Zorn Avenue. Through a class called the “20% Time Project,” St. Leonard sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders turned their library into a media center and maker space. (Record File Photo by Jessica Able)

After more than six decades of Catholic Education, St. Leonard School informed families Jan. 17 that it will close at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

St. Leonard, 440 Zorn Avenue, has 120 students in pre-school through eighth grade and its lower grades have classes with as few as five children.

Faced with declining enrollment and funding challenges for several years, the school developed a plan two years ago to offer a new educational model based on individualized learn-

ing, called a personalized learning program. The initiative also included a timeline to assess progress in enrollment growth, said an announcement about the closure.

“When we implemented our Personalized Learning Model two years ago, it included a commitment by the parish to borrow enough to cover a transition period. It also included a timeline to assess progress with the needed growth in our enrollment,” Father Louis Meiman, pastor of St. Leonard, said in a press release.

“While the heroic commitment of our faculty and staff has resulted in wonderful developments for our students, we have not attracted the number of students needed by this point to continue without our debt rapidly growing and the quality of our children’s education suffering,” he said.

St. Leonard’s efforts have seen success from an educational perspective. The school’s “20% Time Project,” part of its personalized learning program, won a national award in 2018. The project provides two hours a week for middle school students to pursue group, school-wide or individual projects.

Today’s Catholic Teacher awarded the project a 2018 Innovation in Catholic Education award in the curriculum and instruction category.  

Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, praised St. Leonard’s efforts and lamented its closing in an interview Jan. 21.

“St. Leonard is and has been an excellent school,” she said. “Making cuts would really impact the quality of the education program. They have made a lot of great sacrifices in order to continue, however, it wasn’t possible anymore.”

“It’s always sad when a school closes. St. Leonard, like all our Catholic schools, is a family; it’s a close knit family. You have students, parents and teachers who care about each other. You have parishioners who are school employees.”

Schulz noted the teachers at St. Leonard have a deep commitment to their students.

“In talking to the teachers on Friday, the teachers first asked, ‘What can we do to help our students?’ That speaks volumes,” Schulz said.

Archdiocesan counselors were at the school Jan. 21 to speak with students, faculty and staff.

Schulz added that St. Leonard will “continue with normal activities and making sure the rest of the year will be a good one.”  

Next steps for families

Schulz said other Catholic schools will be able to accept St. Leonard students and families will have support during the transition.

School leaders are putting together a list of common questions, which will be addressed on Thursday, Jan. 23, during a meeting with families. St. Leonard may also host a school fair, inviting representatives of Catholic schools to visit and share information about their schools, she said.

The Catholic Schools Office intends to support students as well as faculty and staff who will be looking for new jobs, said Schulz.

She said she’s been in touch with area Catholic schools, which are sharing their open house dates and other information.

“We’ll facilitate a variety of things to support parents and faculty and staff as they move forward,” she said, noting that families with special circumstances may have one-on-one support, too.

Such support is already being offered to 16 of St. Leonard’s students, who come from the Community Catholic Center. The center offers tuition assistance, tutoring, transportation and other support to help children from West Louisville attend Catholic schools. It was formed after the last Catholic school in the area closed.

Heidi Hamilton, director of the center, said families from St. Leonard will be guided through the process of finding a new school.

“We are reaching out to our families at St. Leonard to give them a springboard to start again,” she said. “We will be with them to tour the schools with them and walk them through that process. We want to make a smooth transition into another Catholic school that’s the right fit for them.”

Hamilton said the center partners with six elementary schools and will seek additional partners if families need other options.

Families who are part of the center receive tuition assistance from the center, as well as from the Catholic Education Foundation. Hamilton is encouraging families who haven’t yet applied for aid for next school year to apply now, even if families aren’t sure which school to select.

Tuition assistance

More than half of St. Leonard’s students — 64 children — receive tuition assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation. Those tuition awards will follow the students to their next school, said Julie Baum, senior director of the foundation.

“Tuition assistance is transferrable. If you move schools, the foundation will support you,” she said. “We are family-centric and want to make sure you get your student where they need to be.”

Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the foundation, said the closure is a sign that more needs to be done for families.

“We are proud of the work we did at St. Leonard, but we need to do more. We need to do more for families out there looking for something for their kids and can’t find it,” he said. “Even though we’ve grown the number of kids we’re helping … as we go into this next year, we’re going to do more for more families.”

Baum added that the foundation will reach out to families who have listed St. Leonard on their 2020-2021 applications to help them transition.

The deadline to apply for tuition assistance is Feb. 28 and there is no advantage to applying early, aside from being prepared, she said.

“As long as you get all your information in by Feb. 28, you are in,” she said.

St. Leonard Church and School opened in 1957. The school was initially staffed by Ursuline Sisters of Mt. Saint Joseph.

St. Leonard is one of 40 Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese.

St. Leonard Church and School, 440 Zorn Avenue, opened in 1957. The school, above, is one of 40 Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville. It will close at the end of the current school year. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

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