North Catholic closure: What happened to the promise?


While parents of students at Cardinal Dougherty High School and Northeast Catholic High School for Boys (North Catholic, for short) are upset that the Philadelphia Archdiocese will shutter at the end of this academic school year, one North Catholic mom explained to me this morning why she feels especially hoodwinked by the archdiocese' decision.

She pointed me toward two newspaper articles, published in 2006 and 2007 respectively, that indicated that North Catholic would remain open at least through 2011.

The headline of the first article, published in The Star on Sept. 14, 2006, trumpeted "A Technological Miracle Promises Five More Years For North Catholic."

The "miracle" was the creation of a $1.5 million information-technology program that would allow students to train as information technologists, computer repairmen and network managers. At the end of their training, students could apply for certification from systems giants Microsoft (in products) or Cisco (programming).

The story's opening paragraph says the program assures North Catholic will remain open another five years.

A year later, when the program launched as the North Catholic IT Academy, its vision had expanded to include night classes for adults in the community who also wanted technology certification. An Inquirer story about the opening, published Oct. 8, 2007, quoted North Catholic alum and academy funder John Fries as saying the archdiocese, through Bishop Joseph McFadden, promised him the school would remain open through 2011.

Reached yesterday at home, Fries told me, "I don't want to get in the middle of all that" and would have no comment on North Catholic's closing or the future, if any, of the academy as a community resource. 

When I called North Catholic today for comment, a recorded message stated the school was closed for a "faculty staff day of recollection." Astaffer in the archdiocese communications office promised to get back to me today with a comment about the five-year promise referred to in both news stories.

I'll post the response from the archdiocese as soon as I hear back from them.

Update:  This afternoon, I was able to reach Bishop McFadden, who is also the Philadelphia Archdiocese' vicar of education this afternoon. He said that he never gave a blanket promise that North Catholic would remain open through 2011, even though the papers reported otherwise.

"At the time, I supported the program as it was proposed, which included the opening of a night school for adults in the community," he told me. "Their fees would've helped to fund the bottom line of running the school."

But the adult-education component of the academy never materialized, he said.  Hence, no extra income was generated to support North Catholic, whose enrollment  continued to drop. He went on to say that, back in 1993, the archdiocese hired Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) to study the sustainability of the archdiocese' high-school system. One recommendation of the study study was to close two high schools - one of them ebing North Catholic.

"We refused to accept that advice," he said. "We thought the school deserved the chance to grow and flourish, and everyone worked very hard to do that. Ultimately, we weren't successful, but it was not for lack of effort."