On our Wednesday night live-stream Internet broadcast, I was joined by a panel of alums from Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast.
One of the people who joined us was Annmarie Montgomery, Prendie Class of ‘77. She not only has strong feelings about her alma mater, she also has a plan to salvage the two Drexel Hill single-sex schools as a merged, coed facility.
She did not get an opportunity to fully detail her plan on the show, so I am going to turn the Heron's Nest over to her this morning. She has written a great letter to Archbishop Charles Chaput spelling out her plan and why she thinks a merged school would be a viable entity.
She obviously got the attention of another member of our panel, the Rev. James Olson, president of Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast. He is the man who will decide - maybe later today or over the weekend, whether or not to appeal the decision of the Blue Ribbon Commission that the schools both be closed.
Montgomery gives him some powerful ammunition for his argument.
But her words are far better than mine.
Here is her letter to the archbishop:January 9, 2012The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
222 North 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
I respectfully present to you the following response to the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendation to close Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High Schools. I have read the report in its entirety and I have based this response on key points that should be considered worthy of further investigation and/or evaluation.
It is my belief you will see as you review this information that when applying the approach that the Commission itself cites as determining factors for their recommendations, the unique opportunity to merge these two schools does not only seem viable, but it also has merit.
I have pulled the following from an article in the January 7, 2012, Philadelphia Inquirer written by David O'Reilly outlining an interview with you:
"If pastors and the people of a parish say, 'This [closing] is a good idea - something we should have done a long time ago,' " then it will proceed quickly, he said.
But if they can show him the schools commission made "errors of fact," he will review its decision.
"I'm very accessible," he said, "but not everyone can visit me in my office." Parents and others eager for his intervention should go through their pastors and principals. "It will come to me, I assure you," he said.
Invitations for him to visit schools slated for closure would likely make little difference, he said. "I trust all the schools are good places," he said, "but I have to make decisions based on facts."
The Bonner/Prendergast community do not find the decision to close the schools to be a good idea. However, Your Excellency, it is vital that this not be perceived as solely an emotional opinion based upon decades of well-deserved devotion to these schools.
The appeal presented herein raises questions that legitimately qualify being further investigated to determine if the interpretation of the statistics presented in the Commission's Report have resulted in "errors of fact." At the very least, I believe there have been "errors of omission" in evaluating key components that exist in and around Bonner/Prendergast that seriously question the viability of this decision.
While I understand your statement regarding school visitations and completely agree that you can safely trust that they are all good places, again I need to ask you to question if you are truly confident that your decision regarding Bonner/Prendergast is based on all of the facts.
Considering that the Blue Ribbon Commission was essentially assigned the responsibility of performing a due diligence on our parochial school system, it would seem reasonable to have expected, especially regarding the secondary schools, that there would have been some physical inspection of the operations of the schools and the assets being considered for disposal. As the ultimate decision-maker regarding these closures, it seems both unfair and unsound to ask you to make your judgments based on a presentation of cold statistics compiled by a Committee that you did not personally formulate.
With this in mind, Your Excellency, please rest assured that a warm invitation is still extended to you and any interested member of the Blue Ribbon Commission from the Bonner/Prendergast community and we would be grateful for your presence there.
It is with the understanding that you must be completely overwhelmed at this point that I offer you my most sincere gratitude for taking the time to review the information presented below. I pray that you are willing to be open to the opportunity to further investigate and evaluate whether the interpretation of the statistics as presented by the Commission failed to effectively present the potential for a strong merger.
TO THE BLUE RIBBON COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION FOR CLOSING
1) Bonner/Prendergast combined enrollment places them 4th out of the 17 high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
2) According to the report, the Bonner/Prendergast annual "plant costs" are the most expensive at $900,000 per year with a 31% utilization factor. What analysis was performed to project the annual "plant costs" and utilization factor if the two schools were merged into one building?
3) As it relates to Item #2 above, and with the decision to close West Catholic High School, what analysis was performed to project the increase in enrollment this would have at Bonner/Prendergast?
4) The geographic proximity of Bonner/Prendergast and West Catholic High School (both closing) results in an increased challenge of accessibility on the neighborhoods of Upper Darby and Southwest Philadelphia (two regions with very high population density). The Commission has stated the following in their report, "Two of the most important dimensions parents consider in choosing a school are price and proximity." The decision to close both of these schools does not appropriately serve the families in either of these areas.
5) As it relates to Item #4, what consideration was given to the fact that accessible public transportation from all directions runs day and night to the front door of the Bonner/Prendergast campus?
6) Within the last year, utilizing grant funding, the technology at Bonner/Prendergast has been upgraded and enhanced resulting in a state-of-the-art environment. It may be the only wireless campus in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
7) Bonner/Prendergast ranks as a leader in the Archdiocese for the number of graduates who receive college scholarships.
8) Bonner/Prendergast has produced multiple National Merit Scholarship finalists and recipients.
9) The following was pulled from the "Frequently Asked Questions" link of the Blue Ribbon Commission Report:
"Why was my school chosen to regionalize, partner or close when other Archdiocesan schools in the area remain open? In its analysis, the Blue Ribbon Commission examined the trend and data across the Archdiocese. In addition, its members examined the educational programs offered at each school, current and historical enrollment figures, overall finances for the schools and parishes, current and projected capacity, facility improvements that would be needed and overall demographic trends in our diocese. All of these factors contributed to the commission’s recommended restructuring plan."
Educational Programs - Bonner/Prendergast would have to rank among the highest in this category based upon its general curriculum and faculty tenure. This is further enhanced by both the Drexel Program and the 1:1 Initiative Program that are not offered at the other high schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The Commission should reveal its hard data on this point so a factual comparison can be made.
Current and Historical Enrollment Figures - Bonner/Prendergast combined enrollment ranks them 4th highest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia before any projected transfers from West Catholic High School.
Overall finances for the schools and parishes - With the policy of allowing students to choose the high school they will attend, there are a significant number of schools and parishes subsidizing more than one high school. The Commission should reveal its hard data on this point so a factual comparison can be made.
Current and Projected Capacity - The 31% capacity rate that the Commission has applied to make its decision would be dramatically adjusted if Bonner/Prendergast were housed in one building. So much so, that it would most likely put Bonner/Prendergast in the Number 1 position throughout the Archdiocese in this category, again, before any projected transfers from West Catholic High School.
Facility Improvements Needed and Overall Demographic Trends -Bonner/Prendergast has a recently installed athletic field complex and state-of-the art technology environment on campus. The Commission should reveal its hard data on this point so a factual comparison can be made.
10) The campus site currently housing Archbishop Prendergast High School and Monsignor Bonner High School was once owned by the family of Saint Mother Katharine Drexel. Did the Commission take into consideration that a canonized saint lived and prayed here? Does Canon Law restrict the alternative uses of this property under these circumstances? For this reason, the future plan for the use of this campus should be of paramount concern for all Catholics in the Archdiocese.
In closing, Your Excellency, I would be more than willing to offer my time and help in any way you or the Commission my deem worthy to support a further evaluation of the viability of merging Bonner/Prendergast. I can be reached at the contact information listed below. Along with all of the teachers, children, and parents of our diocese who are being impacted by the Blue Ribbon Commission's recommendations, please rest assured that my heartfelt prayers include yourself and the members of the Commission.
Prayerfully and gratefully,Annmarie Montgomery
Archbishop Prendergast High School Class of 1977
That's a powerful argument.
I have a feeling that eventually Olson will decide to file the appeal. I hope the school's get a chance to make their case.
And it would behoove them to make the points laid out her by Montgomery a big part of their argument.