A national educational organization specializing in college prep Catholic schools looks to build a school in Austin.

The Cristo Rey Network, a national association of high schools that provide Catholic, college preparatory education to urban locations, already has a school on the West Side in the Pilsen community.

Austin would be the next location, though officials with the organization insist that they’re only in the early stages. Part of the process in establishing a school involves the organization conducted a feasibility study on the impact of the school in an urban setting such as Austin.

The reaction, according to Jack Macnamara, director of the study, was decidedly favorable.

“The study began in June 2006. We interviewed over 500 students, 113 parents and 91 community leaders. Most were in favor of the school,” said Macnamara. “However, it is still not etched in stone. We still must have a sponsor for the school, and it still must be approved by the Chicago Archdiocese.”

The Austin school would be the second Cristo Rey Jesuit High School on the West Side, joining one already in Pilsen.

“Cristo Rey Schools came to be out of meetings amongst myself and other Jesuit alumni from schools, such as Loyola and St. Xavier,” said father Jim Gartland, the current president of the Pilsen Cristo Rey Jesuit High School at 1852 W. 22nd. “After receiving the green light from the province to research locations for the school, we decided to conduct a feasibility study within the community to ascertain whether parents and community leaders wanted a school there.”

Gartland interviewed parents through school gatherings at Farragut High School and meetings sponsored by the Chicago Public Schools.

The Pilsen study received favorable results, Gartland said. The Archdiocese of Chicago accepted the proposal and the school recruited Loyola alum and teacher John Foley.

“Our original president, John Foley, was actually teaching in Peru at the time, and members of the council of Jesuits convinced him to return and run the school,” said Peter Beale-Delvecchio, director of development at the Pilsen school.

As far as financing, the school’s board agreed to have the students do work study through city-wide companies to finance there own education.

“The school is almost entirely financed through work study efforts of the children, which allows it to be much more affordable than most Catholic schools,” said Gartland.

There is, however, a $2,650 tuition for entrance, but many students receive scholarships or financial aide, which can handle many of the cost.

“The work study jobs provided would not be simply retail or fast food menial jobs, but jobs with real potential,” said Macnamara. “Most of the jobs allow students to experience several phases of company management.”

But while 75 percent of the school’s funding, according to Macnamara, is through the student’s work study income, he said it has not been a serious issue with students.

“Sure students want to work during the semester and keep all their money, however, they see the opportunity they have working and gaining experience while financing their own education. The feeling of self-confidence this brings is enormous.”

Among the affiliates providing work study sites are LaSalle Bank, Winston & Strawn, and Loyola University Health System.

Among the benefits of the Cristo Rey schools, officials said, are the academic assistance, counseling, and smaller class sizes The school generally accepts between 300-500 students.

Cristo Rey has 12 schools and enrolled about 2,882 students in such states as Missouri, Oregon and California for the 2006-07 school year.

According to Cristo Rey Network’s web site, 92 percent of the students are racial minorities, and the average family income of this year’s ninth grade class is $33,051. Ninety-six percent of last year’s graduates enrolled in college in the fall of 2006.

“It’s a terrific educational option for the community because of the rate of success, the feeling of safety and security the school gives each student, and the ability to allow them to work at good jobs while they attend,” said Macnamara.

If approved by Chicago Archdiocese, an announcement could come by March with officials eyeing a fall 2008 opening.