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Maria Will Close But New Chapter Begins

As reported in the Oct. 14 city edition of the News-Herald, Maria High School, 6727 S. California Ave., Chicago, will close its doors after the 2012-13 school year. Maria, which was formerly called St. Casimir Academy, has been teaching female students a Catholic education for 100 years.

The school, located on the border of Chicago’s Marquette Manor and Chicago Lawn neighborhoods and overlooking Marquette Park, has been a fixture in the community. In last week’s city edition and the Center Stage column, details were provided about why Maria will close its doors.

The main reason given, according to various Maria officials, was that the crippling economy of the past few years have limited enrollment at the school. While alumnae and Maria officials held various fund-raisers over the past couple of years, the painful decision was made that the school no longer could continue. At one time, Maria had an enrollment over 1,400 students. Now the school has 207 students with just 42 freshmen this year.

But while the news is sad, it was not surprising. Rumors had been spreading that Maria may have to close its doors. In fact, we knew that Maria was going to close a week before the announcement. However, repeated calls went unreturned, so we can only conclude that Maria officials wanted to inform the students first.

While Maria as we know it will no longer be in operation, a new beginning is possibly on the horizon. Maria officials are asking the Chicago Public School system to consider that Maria become a charter school called Catalyst-Maria. If approved by the CPS, the school would begin as a kindergarten through eighth grade facility in the fall of 2012. Grades nine through 12 would open under the Catalyst-Maria name in the fall of 2013.

In the meantime, Maria High School will continue to operate until the spring of 2013 for the remaining students.

Catalyst Schools reportedly offer a college-preparatory educational experience. It will offer a co-ed learning environment. A front page story that appeared in the Oct. 14 city edition, which was written by News-Herald reporter Amanda Drapiewski, states that many students who arrive at Catalyst Schools are below average in math and reading skills. Teachers focus on math, reading and language arts every day for 80 minutes.

On the surface that sounds impressive. But we will know more at a later date. It is anticipated that the Catalyst Schools’ application for Catalyst-Maria will be reviewed at the Nov. 16 CPS board meeting.

We encourage Chicago Public Schools to approve the proposal and include the Maria name. This is a way of respecting Maria’s history while maintaining an educational experience for the Chicago Lawn and Marquette Manor neighborhoods.

It also is a better option. We don’t need to see an empty edifice in the neighborhood. Maria’s name will continue and neighborhood kids will receive an education. That’s the best option.

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