The Cristo Rey Network, a national association of college-prep Catholic high schools, will open a school in Austin in 2009, officials from the network recently announced.
Austin will become the city’s second Cristo Rey location. A school in Pilsen opened in 1996 by the Chicago-based network. The Austin school will be named Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School. The inaugural class will be composed of freshmen and sophomores. The Archdiocese of Chicago recently approved the school.
Classes will actually begin in fall 2008 at a still undetermined location in Austin while the school’s permanent location, Resurrection Parish at Jackson and Laramie, is being prepared for fall 2009.
The parish’s three-acre site includes a church, convent and an auditorium.
The location includes The Chicago Jesuit Academy Middle School of about 100 students. The middle school and high school will share space, said Father Chris Devron, who will oversee the planning of the school.
“The location should be able to house between 500 and 600 students,” he said. “Once we obtained approval from both the Chicago Archdiocese and the Cristo Rey Network earlier this year, it was simply a matter of starting the process to place the school at an accessible location.”
Though some planning personnel are in place, other details about the high school still need to be worked out, officials said.
For example, a leadership team to run the school needs to be established. Team members are not required to be
Roman Catholic or Jesuit educators, and they can live in or outside of the community, officials said.
The Cristo Rey Network has a total of 12 schools with roughly 2,000 students in cities including Cleveland, Los Angeles and Denver.
Schools scheduled to open this year include those in cities such as Washington DC, Indianapolis and Minneapolis.
Before opening a school, the network conducts a feasibility study to gage community input. A study was conducted in Austin last summer. More than 700 parents, students and community leaders were interviewed, and feedback was reportedly positive.
“We looked at the results of the feasibility study and determined it to be quite heavily in favor of building a new Catholic school in the area,” said Nicolas Wolsonovich, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
A majority of students attending Cristo Rey schools are minorities and have a family income of around $33,000. Devron stressed that students for the new high school will be recruited from Austin and greater West Side.
“There are 14,000 high school-age children in Austin yet there are only 7,000 available seats for them,” Devron said. “We know that the school will not solve all the problems, but we are hoping it will positively impact the West Side in the long term.”
Students eligible to enroll must:
Be at least 14 years old of age – the youngest age at which they can work)
Interview individually and present themselves well
Have no track record as a serious disciplinary risk for potential employers
Have a desire to be a part of the school
Father John Foley and his colleagues within the Chicago Jesuit community founded the network in 1996 with the first school located in Pilsen. They opened their second school in Portland in 2001.
The network wanted to link students considered “academically under-performing” with a religiously-affiliated institution with small classes.
Among the issues they faced early on was building and financing Catholic high schools in low-income communities. One solution was to have students work in internships at businesses in their communities. Their stipends would go toward tuition, which effectively addressed two funding problems.
The internships, officials noted, also give students valuable work experience.
“Essentially, we will take students through a three-week training program where we familiarize them with business interaction and on the job skills,” said Preston Kendall, vice president for administrative work study for the Austin school. “They will learn about faxing, practice keyboarding, and filing. It will be four students sharing one job totaling a 40-hour a week work schedule.”
School officials plan to arrange internships for students at 124 companies once enrollment maxes out. The first-year freshmen class of 100 will share 31 jobs. Students will spend one day out of the week at their jobs. Employers pay schools $27,000 for each job, which covers 70 percent of tuition and operational costs for the school.
“That leaves around [$2,400] for the students to pay, but 60 percent generally receive either financial aide support or a grant,” said Peter Beale-DelVecchio, director of development for the Pilsen school.
Students, he said, have the option to work during the summer where they can keep all the money they earn. Also, the money students earn does not include lunches or other miscellaneous job costs.
One key element in Pilsen’s model, according to DelVecchio, is that 80 percent of their students live within five miles of the school, creating a true “community feel.”
The school also provide transportation to students’ work study jobs. Students in Pilsen work primarily for downtown employers.
The West Side/Austin model, officials said, will include employers in neighboring Oak Park and in Oak Brook.
Terry Dean contributed to this story.