Omaha Archdiocese tries to prepare kids for big changes ahead

Assumption-Guadalupe third-grader Enrique Bonilla Gaytan (in the white shirt) gets to know some Sts. Peter and Paul third-graders. Tuesday's meet-and-greet marked Catholic Schools Week and was aimed at preparing Enrique and his fellow students for the coming realignment of Catholic grade schools.

Six boys plopped down in an impromptu circle on the floor of Theresa Brennan's third-grade classroom at Sts. Peter and Paul School.

Four attend Sts. Peter and Paul. Two were from Assumption-Guadalupe School, which bused its entire student body to its South Omaha neighbor Tuesday.

They clutched doughnuts and cartons of chocolate milk, the great equalizers of schoolchildren everywhere.

“I want a Harley,” said Enrique Bonilla Gaytan, an Assumption-Guadalupe student.

“I just have a bike,” said Caleb Hay, who attends Sts. Peter and Paul.

The boys' discussion, which moved on to favorite meals and video games, came as part of a joint Mass and meet-and-greet session to mark Catholic Schools Week and prepare for a realignment of Catholic grade schools in southeast Omaha. The realignment will close three buildings — including Assumption-Guadalupe — at the end of the school year and place five others into a regional consortium.

School officials would like to see Assumption-Guadalupe's mostly Hispanic students move to Sts. Peter and Paul, which the Archdiocese of Omaha plans to make more welcoming to them. The Rev. Frank Jindra, the pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, gave a blessing in Spanish at the end of Tuesday's Mass.

“What we plan to do is take the best of both communities and offer something new,” said Trish Wallinger, principal at Sts. Peter and Paul School.

Making that work, however, starts with getting to know one another. Teachers met at the school last week for a tour and pizza lunch. They also planned Tuesday's activities.

Sts. Peter and Paul, near 36th and X Streets, next year will join Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Thomas More and St. Bernadette in Bellevue in the new Omaha Catholic Schools Consortium. They will operate under a single administration with a common tuition, teacher salaries, marketing and fundraising.

Two other schools, St. Stanislaus School, near 41st and J Streets, and Holy Ghost School, near 52nd and Q Streets, will close at the end of the school year.

The schools shift is part of a broader strategic plan — called Promise 2020 — that Archbishop George J. Lucas laid out last June with the intent of strengthening Catholic schools and parishes in east Omaha. It also includes changes for some parishes.

The plan is bringing plenty of lasts and firsts, not all of them easy.

Both St. Stanislaus and Holy Ghost parishes are preparing big celebrations later in the year to mark the end of their schools' long runs. On Tuesday, students from those schools and from St. Bernadette went to Gross High School for a Catholic Schools Week Mass.

Richard Leimbach, principal at both St. Stanislaus and Holy Ghost, said officials hope students at those schools, too, will go on to other Catholic schools.

“St. Stanislaus and Holy Ghost are very special places,” Leimbach said. “My message is these other Catholic schools also are special places, just with another name on the door.”

In addition to its impact on students and their families, the plan also poses possible adjustments for teachers and staff.

With eight schools essentially condensing to five, principals and teachers are reapplying for their jobs.

The principals already have been appointed. All of those currently serving at the five consortium schools will remain in place. Leimbach did not apply.

Rob Laird, Assumption-Guadalupe's president, will take on a new role as consortium outreach coordinator. He already is working on a website and ways the consortium can communicate with parents via email and text messages. He'll also act as an ombudsman of sorts, addressing parents' concerns.

Teachers' applications are due Feb. 15. Principals will be in charge of hiring at each building. The pool initially will be limited to teachers from the eight schools.

Monsignor James Gilg, the consortium's executive director, said the archdiocese also is making progress on the business side of the operation. Gilg also is the archdiocese's superintendent of schools, a role he'll continue for the rest of the school year.

One big milestone, he said, was Friday's announcement of tuition for the five schools next fall. Rates are $2,250 for one child; $3,450 for two; $4,250 for three and $4,500 for four. That's a little less than St. Stanislaus' and Holy Ghost's rate for one child and a little more than the schools charge for two or more.

The fee, however, is higher than Assumption-Guadalupe's $1,550 for a single child.

Gilg said parishes and the Latino Scholarship Fund will provide aid. In addition, Gilg said, funds families receive through the Children's Scholarship Fund of Omaha will follow students to their new schools.

The outreach efforts, too, will continue.

Wallinger said some prospective families already have toured Sts. Peter and Paul and expressed interest. The school upgraded its computer lab earlier this school year. Part of the building now has air conditioning, and the rest will have it by fall. With 144 students in preschool through eighth grade, the building has room for more.

Indeed, some students already know one another, through past attendance at other schools and through sports. “The kids are our best ambassadors,” Wallinger said.

April Micklonis, president of the home and school association, said her children — three attend now, one graduated last year — are looking forward to new classmates. Her husband, the volunteer athletic director, already has been recruiting Assumption-Guadalupe students for athletic teams.

“My kids love being here,” she said. “We're a good community here at Peter and Paul.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1223,

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