By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
Vowing to “do everything they can to keep the vision alive,” more than 50 parents of students at St. Camillus Academy met Tuesday night to organize efforts on keeping the school open for the 2013-14 school year — and beyond.
Many of them did just that, by signing a petition dedicating to have their children commit to attend the academy for the new school year, before and during the meeting, held in the school’s library.
The session came a week after officials at St. Camillus were told by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington the historic school that began in Corbin in 1908 would close at the end of the school year in May.
The diocese operates the school under an agreement with the Divine Sisters of Providence, which owns the buildings and property. The Sisters, based in the northern Kentucky community of Melbourne, agreed to closing the school after meeting with a diocese official on Jan. 11.
School Principal Terry Newquist started the session explaining to parents about the decision to close by both the diocese and the Sisters.
“They can’t keep the school open because of the financial situation and that the Sisters no longer have a lot of teachers left. The Sisters just sold the mother house at St. Anne (Convent). Right now, what do we need to do? We have nobody to lead us right now.”
She told parents what was needed was a commitment for another group or organization to keep St. Camillus open. Newquist reminded parents to sign the petition, and to get the word out to other friends, alumni and interested persons, adding, “We need to keep the children in this school.”
Options about how to keep the school open were discussed. One was asking the diocese to keep up their end of the contract, by operating St. Camillus for the upcoming school year this fall. Another option was asking the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tenn. to take over the school.
Newquist cited the operating budget to keep the school open for the year was $600,000, while they received $460,000 to operate the school through tuition, as well as grants, donations and other sources. With expenses of $600,000 and revenue of $460,000, it comes to a shortfall of $140,000.
She reminded those attending that to keep the school alive, “We have to have a viable plan for the future.”
Asking the crowd to donate money for the purpose, Newquist noted, “The kids brought their piggy banks in to keep us open, and that breaks your heart. … Students have written letters to keep us open, and they’ve prayed. We need lots of prayer. If you feel inclined to write a letter to the Bishop, please do so,” referring to the Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer, the Bishop of the Diocese of Lexington.
In addition to the written petition, the school is in the process of sending an electronic petition to the diocese, and is also asking parents, and alumni to send emails to express their desire in keeping the school in business.
Newquist said the “Save Our School” email address that’s being used is firstname.lastname@example.org.
One audience member suggested tapping into St. Camillus alumni as a source of money, adding, “There’s hundreds of alumni that can contribute donations, as well as businesses. And we could see if the diocese can grant an extension.”
“We do get random support from some alumni, but not from the alumni association,” Newquist replied.
Another person suggested Bishop Gainer come to Corbin to have an audience with the parents and the school.
At that time, several parents said and pledged they would “do anything they can to keep the school’s doors open.”
Newquist assured them, “I will assure you that your children will be taken care of this year. That’s the easy part.”
Board member and parent Kevin Meece spoke up, saying a large email campaign would be conducted to help keep the petition going, saying the process to save St. Camillus would take a lot of effort.
“We want to make sure you’re all informed, and keep in touch with us on the school board. Stay committed, and we’ll do everything we can to keep this vision alive.”
When Newquist said the school would need about 120-130 students to keep it going, and that St. Camillus was looking at a marketing plan to encourage parents to send their children there, Meece pointed out the immediate problem was to keep the school open.
“Honestly, I think it would be easier to raise the funds than to raise the enrollment now. Maybe in two to three years, we can raise enrollment.”
Shortly after 7:40 p.m., one person in the room, David Ledford, spoke up and pledged a $1,000 donation to keep the school going. He challenged others in the library to do the same. A sheet of paper was passed around, and several signed their pledges. By 8:20 p.m., they had $30,000 in pledges.
Before the session ended, Meece said several fundraisers were being planned, including an upcoming fundraiser for St. Camillus in the spring. One meeting for a fundraiser is scheduled this Saturday at 2 p.m., in the school’s cafeteria.
Newquist reminded parents before they left, “We are here for the children, and that’s the reason we walk through these doors.”
Afterwards, Meece noted the meeting went extremely well, and brought parents and other interested people together to connect with each other and stay in touch.
“It showed the commitment of these parents for this school. We’re trying to stay positive and move forward, and that’s impressive.”