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Catholic Diocese seeks new school chief Tasks will include solidifying system after recent closings

Seeking to solidify the future of the 56 elementary schools in the diocese, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo wants to hire a new superintendent and develop an updated core curriculum.

Since closing 14 elementary schools earlier this year, the diocese has parted ways with its former secretary for Catholic education and former superintendent.

Carol A. Kostyniak was hired in June to succeed Denise McKenzie as secretary for education. McKenzie returned to her former post as diocesan director of religious education.

Diane Vigrass was let go as superintendent about three weeks ago; the diocese has placed ads for a successor.

McKenzie and Vigrass had led Catholic education since their appointments in 2003 and had started an overhaul of an educational system beset by chronic enrollment losses and huge operating deficits.

Vigrass said she had been looking forward to strengthening the schools that remained after the controversial shutdown of 14 schools earlier this year and the closing of several others in previous years.

"It's been a very difficult couple of years emotionally, I think, for everyone. It was definitely painful for many, many people," she said.

Vigrass said other Catholic leaders viewed her role in the closures as a possible detriment to rebuilding the school system.

"The current leadership is very much concerned about perception," she said. "They believed they needed someone new."

Vigrass, a former Catholic elementary school principal, said she was disappointed in the decision but understood it and had parted amicably with the diocese.

"It was a business decision," she said. "It was a friendly leave, as disappointed as I was because I really do believe they're headed in the right direction."

Kostyniak would not discuss the reason for Vigrass' departure, saying the diocese doesn't comment on personnel decisions.

She said the diocese hoped to have a new superintendent by January. Diocesan officials seek someone who will help craft a core curriculum infused with the Catholic faith and aligned with State Regents standards.

The superintendent will be responsible for mapping and instituting a curriculum for Catholic schools to cover the same fundamentals at roughly the same time of the year, Kostyniak said.

Kostyniak said some area Catholic elementary schools were growing again, a result, in part, of new marketing efforts.

St. Gregory the Great in Amherst grew by about 40 pupils, mostly from public schools, she said.

And at least two-thirds of the more than 1,000 pupils displaced by the recent school closings found new homes in other Catholic schools, she added.

"We retained about 66 percent, which is higher than the national average when schools are closed," Kostyniak said.


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