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TASK FORCE TO LOOK AT 'FUTURE OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLING'

A task force will study marketing and recruitment solutions to the declining enrollment in this city's Catholic schools.

Niagara University will assist the 28-member task force, which was recently formed by the Niagara Falls Catholic School Network.

The network is made up of the six Catholic schools and nine nonschool parishes that support them.

Monsignor David M. Lee, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, said the task force will "study the future of Catholic schooling" in Niagara Falls.

"The task force has been set up to look at ways to strengthen the school situation in Niagara Falls, particularly with regard to marketing and recruitment," he said. "There have been a lot of very good things happening in Niagara Falls, with parishes cooperating on lots of different projects. In several ways, the schools have cooperated with one another. This is just building on that past experience."

The Rev. Robert S. Hughson, chairman of the network and pastor of St. Charles Church, said the goal is to "strengthen and improve the quality of Catholic education in the city and continue to work together."

He cited declining enrollment and rising tuition costs as the key issues.

"We want to look at the numbers," he said. "We are a city in population decline. We've lost about 20 percent of our population in the last 10 years or so, and it affects everything. In order to remain strong, we want to look at ways that we can continue to work together so we don't leave each other hanging out there alone."

Asked whether closing or consolidating some schools are options, the network chairman said:

"Everything will be considered by the task force, including reconfiguration of our schools or even reopening of schools that have closed. It all depends on the needs, the numbers and the costs. As long as people want Catholic education, we will be there."

Debra A. Colley, dean of the College of Education of Niagara University, will lead a support team for the task force. She was with the state Education Department before joining the university in August.

The task force will submit a position paper with recommendations to the Catholic School Network by the end of March. Public forums with follow, so parents and teachers and others in the community can discuss the task force's suggestions.

The network consists of Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School and five parish grammar schools -- Prince of Peace and Sacred Heart, which have prekindergarten through sixth grade, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph and St. John de LaSalle, which go through eighth grade.

The parishes supporting them are St. Charles, St. Leo, St. Mary of the Cataract, St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus, Our Lady of Lebanon, Holy Trinity, St. George, St. Stanislaus Kostka and Our Lady of the Rosary.

The other Niagara University faculty members on the support team are Frank Calzi, Jacqueline McFarland, Delar Singh and Paula Vermette.

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