Niagara Catholic Junior-Senior High School has lost about 10 percent of its enrollment in the wake of the opening this fall of the new Niagara Falls High School.
The glamour of the $80 million public high school has attracted many Niagara Falls parents who, until now, were willing to pay private tuition to Niagara Catholic rather than send their children to the crumbling Niagara Falls High School or LaSalle Senior High School, Catholic school officials said.
"Keep in mind that a significant majority of Niagara Catholic students are still drawn from within the city limits," said David J. Kersten, president of Niagara Catholic. "The new high school obviously has some new opportunities for students, because of the new facility. So we have experienced a slight decrease in our enrollment as a result of the new school. Overall, enrollment is down by approximately 10 percent."
Niagara Catholic now has 220 students in senior high and 50 students in junior high, which is grades 7 and 8.
"The never-ending challenge of Catholic education is to provide what we do but to make sure it's affordable," Kersten said. "So those people who are economically challenged are going to take another look at the public schools where they may not have done so in the past."
Kersten said he doubted that many parochial students were attracted by the innovative programs that were created for the new Niagara Falls High School.
"Quite frankly, Niagara Catholic has a superior academic program," he said. "We're second to none here; our scores will bear that out. Our students excel in Regents programs, and we have 98 percent who go on to post-secondary education. Our graduates last year received $1.6 million in scholarships. We had the only National Merit Scholar in all of Niagara County."
In collaboration with Niagara University, Niagara Catholic will soon offer its students the Niagara Prep Program, which will allow them to earn up to one year of college credit while still in high school. The program begins in January.
As for the new high school's state-of-the-art technology, Kersten said Niagara Catholic has recently enhanced its own technology.
The school building at 520 66th St. has been rewired for the new technology, and this past week Niagara Catholic became the first Niagara County member of the Buffalo Independent Secondary School Network. Composed of 18 private and parochial high schools in the Buffalo area, BISSNET now allows more than 7,000 students to share a telecommunications network, linking their libraries and educational programs.
Kersten said Niagara Catholic spent more than $100,000 over the summer to upgrade its technology to provide every student an e-mail account and Internet access. Students can access their work from home and find homework assignments posted by their teachers.
"In addition to that," Kersten said, "we just did a $200,000 renovation to our gymnasium. Two years ago, we built a $170,000 fitness center. A year ago, we renovated our physics and chemistry lab with a $70,000 grant from the Niacet Corp. So, Niagara Catholic is not standing still."
Niagara Catholic boasts a student-teacher ratio of 16 to 1.
"Our size affords students the opportunity to get to know their teacher; their teacher gets to know the students," Kersten said. "It's a key component for academic success."
Officials at Niagara Falls High School said they have about 2,400 students so far and 177 classroom teachers, giving them a student-teacher ratio of 13.5 to 1.
Both schools calculated their ratios by counting only full-time classroom teachers.
Niagara Falls School Superintendent Carmen A. Granto explained that the new high school was assigned the same number of teachers as the two old high schools had, opting to improve the program rather than save money by staff consolidations.
Kersten also said students have better access to extracurricular activities at Niagara Catholic because its enrollment is so small.
"Students are going to have a greater opportunity to participate in varsity-level sports and extracurriculars," he said.
The city's two old public high schools merged their clubs and sports teams, and the new high school created a modified sports program to accommodate student athletes who no longer have a berth on a varsity team.