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Maria High to close in 2013 after converting to public charter school


MariHigh students celebrate school’s 100th anniversary last month. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times

Maria High students celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary last month. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 10:37AM



Maria High School — a century-old, all-girls Catholic school overlooking Chicago’s Marquette Park — plans to go out of business in 2013 after gradually converting to a coeducational, kindergarten-to-12th grade public charter school officials said Thursday.

The school that counts Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez among its alums “has been struggling for many years,’’ said Sister M. Immacula Wendt, general superior of the Sisters of St. Casimir that run the school.

The Sisters of St. Casimir have contributed “close to $10 million in the last five years-plus’’ to keep Maria High afloat “because we really believed in the mission to educate young women,’’ Wendt said. That includes $300,000 annually in scholarships to Maria, she said.

Even so, enrollment has dwindled from a peak of 1,400 in the 1960s or 1970s to “a tad over 200 today,” Wendt said. “The economics” of running a single-gender private school in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood have “become prohibitive,’’ the high school said in a news release Thursday.

If Chicago Public School officials approve, a charter school chain called Catalyst Charter Schools Network would open a kindergarten-9th grade school, called Catalyst-Maria, in the building at 6727 S. California in the fall of 2012, officials said.

During that school year, Wendt said, Maria High students would share the building with Catalyst students and probably continue to take mandatory religion classes.

But Maria’s days as an all-girls Catholic high school would end at the close of that school year. In the fall of 2013, Catalyst-Maria Charter School would add grades 10-12. Any Maria students who have not yet graduated could apply.

The sisters hope to eventually provide optional Catholic education classes in an adjacent building, now a vacant convent, either before school, after school or on Saturdays, to allow male and female Catholic students and others to continue Catholic studies, Wendt said.

In addition, she said, members of the Sisters of St. Casimir may be allowed to teach in the new Catalyst-Maria or sit on the new charter school board. The sisters would continue to own the building and merely rent it to Catalyst, which operates two other charter campuses using a values-based model developed by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Maria officials said.

The Sisters of St. Casimir are heartened that the plan now pending with CPS will “provide a seamless education from K-12” by a charter operator who shares similar values — of academic excellence, strong character values, a college-prep ethic, and commitment to produce “people of service,’’ Wendt said.

The new school “cannot teach about the Catholic faith; that is one thing we are saddened about,’’ Wendt said. “But in everything else, they mirror our values.’’

Charter schools are public schools that are allowed many of the freedoms of private schools but receive taxpayer dollars on a per-pupil basis. the Chicago School board is expected to review the Catalyst-Maria proposal during its November board meeting.



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