Woodlawn Catholic parents keeping hope alive in face of closing

Woodlawn Catholic parents keeping hope alive in face of closing

The Fantasia children on the first day of school this year are, from left, Helen, 4, Ricci, 8, and Noah, 6.

PAWTUCKET – Last week’s announced decision to close the Woodlawn Catholic Regional School is all but a done deal, school officials told parents during a meeting last Saturday evening, June 8.

But parents say they’re not giving up hope of somehow keeping the school open, running side-by-side efforts in the final days of school to raise funds and boost enrollment.

According to one staff member, there were only 68 students registered for the next school year. Even if by some miracle the number jumped up to this past year’s number of 116, it wouldn’t be enough.

“It’s not sustainable,” said the employee, who asked not to be named. “It’s very sad.”

Those numbers are a far cry from the 220 or more students enrolled in the school for students in pre-kindergarten through 8th-grade a decade ago.

The school, located on Hope Street, has drawn students from Pawtucket, Central Falls, Providence, Johnston and elsewhere for the past 48 years.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence made the announcement last week that the independent Catholic school would close at the end of the school year, but it wasn’t the Diocese that closed the school. The last day of school is set for this Friday, June 14.

The school was set to hold its final – and undoubtedly tear-filled – graduation ceremony on Tuesday evening, June 11, at St. Joseph’s Church on Walcott Street.

Jenn Fantasia, a 1993 WCRS graduate and parent of two students at the school, said it broke her heart to see teachers and students packing up their classrooms this week. She said parents and teachers were blindsided and shocked by the news, saying there was no advance notice.

Everyone involved deserved better, she said. They deserved to be given ample warning, not only to come up with a solution to keep the school open but also to find adequate schooling for their children. Many local charter schools had their lotteries in March, she said.

Fantasia and her husband, Ricci, have organized an effort to try to save the school, including a fundraising page seeking $250,000, but that page had only $540 pledged as of Monday.

“We’re very stubborn people,” said Fantasia of her family. “Until the door closes on Friday, we’re not giving up hope.”

Schoolchildren are now joining the effort to save the school, said Fantasia. During last Saturday’s meeting, parents were told that it would take at least 80 new admissions or $500,000 to keep the school open. She and others are going for 40 new admissions and $250,000 as a starting point to keep talks going.

“If we don’t get at least the 40 they won’t even talk to us about reaching 80,” she said.

They’re going from car to car in the school lot reminding people to register for next year if they haven’t already, notifying them that registration fees have been lowered.

Fantasia said she has “a million memories” from her own time at the school as well as her children’s time there.

“They’re devastated,” she said, adding that her children had already been looking forward to next year.

Tuition is about $4,800 per year, said Fantasia. She and her husband will have to think carefully about their next options if the school does close, as public school is simply not an option.

After serving the Woodlawn area of Pawtucket and beyond for the last 48 years, board members said the decision to close “this successful and vibrant school” was a difficult one and based on low enrollment projections for the upcoming school year, according to an announcement from Woodlawn Catholic School President Roger Theroux. He did not return a call for comment.

The school was founded in 1972 when a group of dedicated parishioners from local Catholic parishes teamed together to create a regional school at the site of the former St. Edward’s School, 61 Hope St. The independent Catholic school started as a kindergarten through 8th-grade school and later added a pre-kindergarten class.

“Managed totally by a dedicated volunteer board of directors, this school has been a success story for longer than anyone could have predicted,” states a release. “The children, and the school’s commitment to their intellectual, moral and spiritual growth, have always been at the center of the school’s mission. For decades, dedicated long-term staff and principals have been centered on attaining this mission in a loving, family learning environment.”

Board members thanked everyone involved “who has allowed this school to thrive and provide a loving, safe environment with rigorous educational standards that exceed state requirements and position graduates for success in high school and beyond.

“We wish continued success to our alumni and current students in their future plans.”