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May 9, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 14

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photo: Three Latino teens from Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep are among the 128 9th grade students at the school which opened in August 2015. It is the 30th school in the network.

Three Latino teens from Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep are among the 128 9th grade students at the school which opened in August 2015. It is the 30th school in the network.

Proposed Cristo Rey School in Richmond gains momentum

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond is involved in a feasibility study to determine if there is community support from local businesses and the private sector for a proposed Cristo Rey School in Richmond which would serve the needs of students from economically disadvantaged families.

The Cristo Rey (Spanish for Christ the King) Network already has the support of Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and the Diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools.

The feasibility study seeks to determine if there are interested eligible students, businesses which would financially support the school by hiring students for an entry-level job whose salary would pay the tuition, and an existing building which would serve as the school.

Initially, Cristo Rey would recruit 9th grade students for the school’s first year and then add a new grade each year so it would fully encompass 9th to 12th grades by the beginning of the fourth academic year.

Alexa Quinn, a member of St. Bridget Parish in Richmond who is chairman of the feasibility study, envisions the study to take 12 to 18 months to complete.

“There is a fairly rigorous standard we have to meet to continue to operate,” she told The Catholic Virginian.

Part of the feasibility study is seeking a religious order to sponsor or endorse the school. Another qualification is that there would be enough potential students whose families are below the poverty line. Ms. Quinn estimates there are 300 to 400 6th grade students in the Richmond area who would be prospective 9th grade students if the school were to open in the fall of 2018.

If all criteria are met, Ms. Quinn expects Richmond’s Cristo Rey School to open at that time. Right now, lay leaders in the Diocese are getting the word out to business leaders and educators to gain their support.

“As part of our development plans, we’ll have meet and greet gatherings to learn more about Cristo Rey which would include a broad base of people who would be donors as well as prospective students and their families,” Ms. Quinn said. Students and parents will be interviewed as part of the feasibility study.

“This is certainly a next step for our Segura Initiative,” Ms. Quinn said, mentioning the Diocese’s Segura Initiative which already provides tuition assistance to Hispanic children in several Richmond Catholic schools.

The proposed Cristo Rey high school should not be seen as competition for the current Catholic high schools in Richmond — Benedictine College Preparatory and Saint Gertrude’s. Both Jesse Grapes, headmaster of Benedictine, and Renate Lafferty, president of St. Gertrude’s, attended the first feasibility meeting in March at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

“We’re not in competition,” said Brian Melton, Chief Network Growth Officer and General Counsel at the Cristo Rey Network headquarters in Chicago.

“Our curriculum and procedures are so different,” he added. “For one, we have the president-principal model of high school.”

Mr. Melton explained that the president is the chief leader of the school involved in creating the school’s public image, fostering a relationship with civic and community leaders and fundraising and “who stays out of the principal’s way so he can run the school.”

“The first reason (why there is no competition with Benedictine and St. Gertrude’s) is that most of their students could not get into Cristo Rey because of our family income level for prospective students,” he said.

“Conversely, most of our 9th grade students would not academically qualify for either of those two schools,” he added.

A Cristo Rey School is traditionally sponsored or endorsed by a religious order with private initial financial support.

The Chicago-Detroit Jesuit Province did the groundwork for the opening of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago in 1996. None of the families of the students were able to afford tuition at a private high school, but Jesuit Father John Foley convinced local businesses to hire their students and pay their salaries to the school to cover the tuition.

Companies in the Richmond area will be encouraged to provide funding for the Richmond Cristo Rey School by hiring four students and paying a combined salary of $32,000. Under this plan, each of the four students would work one full day a week, with one of the four rotating by working on the fifth day in a Monday through Friday schedule.

Records show that graduates of Cristo Rey network schools graduate from a four-year college at a rate above the national average (36 percent vs. 23 percent) and at more than twice the rate of other low-income students (15 percent).

Richmond is considered a good possibility to establish a Cristo Rey high school because statistics show 25 percent of the Richmond metropolitan area of 1.2 million live below the federal poverty line.

A lawyer and certified public accountant by profession, Ms. Quinn has been involved in education efforts the past four years. She is a member of the board of Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal Middle School in Richmond’s East End.

“I also mentor and tutor students at Anna Julia Cooper and am on the board of Armstrong High School Freshman Academy, which is supported by 11 faith-based churches in the city’s East End.

Asked about possible sites for Cristo Rey in Richmond, Ms. Quinn said a committee is looking at properties in Richmond’s East End and the Bainbridge-Manchester area of South Richmond where there is a high number of economically disadvantaged students.

“It really comes down to finding a building in a location that suits our needs,” she said. “We want to be where our students are.”

“The building will likely need extensive renovations to make it ready for high school classes,” Mr. Melton said.

Father Shay Auerbach, a Jesuit who is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in South Richmond, took Mr. Melton on a tour of low-income neighborhoods of South Richmond which he said would have a mixture of both African American and Latino youths from disadvantaged homes who would be eligible for admission to Cristo Rey.

There is more information on the website www.cristoreyrichmond.org

In many American cities where there is a Cristo Rey school the large majority of students are African American.

Nationally, 41 percent of the students are Catholic, but they all attend Catholic religion classes as part of the academic program.

In addition to the 30 Cristo Rey schools throughout the country, two new schools in Baton Rouge and Tampa will open this summer with an academic training camp preceding the opening of the school year.

Richmond and five other cities are currently undergoing feasibility studies. The other five are Oklahoma City, Okla.; Oakland, Calif.; Fort Worth, Tex.; Las Vegas, Nev. and Jacksonville, Fla.

As a sign of continued momentum toward opening a Cristo Rey school in Richmond, the network has hired Katie Yohe to the fulltime position as coordinator, starting in August. She is currently working at a Cristo Rey School in Indianapolis while working on a master’s degree.

“We had our first set of community meetings April 19 and we broke into separate groups,” said Annette Parsons, the Diocese’s Chief Education Administrator.

She credited Bishop DiLorenzo for his support of the feasibility study to see if the school is to be a reality, adding that the Cristo Rey Network will only consider opening a school if the diocesan Bishop gives his permission.

The Cristo Rey Network seeks to boost and enhance Catholic education at a time when some schools are closing, Mr. Melton said.

“We want to open the doors for opportunity for more students in Richmond,” he said. “We’re trying to help a population which has been largely ignored in Catholic education.”

He is excited about the momentum Cristo Rey is making, pointing to the fact that 55 people attended the first breakfast meeting and were receptive to the idea of Cristo Rey.

“We hope that within 12 months we will finish the feasibility study which would be April 2017,” Mr. Melton said.

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