New occupants for old parish schools



The moribund parish school campus of St. Cecilia in Kearny will be seeing new life.

The Archdiocese of Newark, which controls the property, and the Hudson Arts & Science Charter School, based in Kearny, have independently confirmed terms have been concluded for use of the space.

Archdiocesan spokesman Jim Goodness told The Observer that a deal has been reached that will allow HASCS to lease both the old parish grammar school and high school.

“They need more space,” Goodness said.

Lease terms were nailed down “within the last month or so,” he added, but he declined to furnish details.

The Rev. John Wassell, pastor of St. Cecilia, couldn’t be reached.

In a separate phone interview, Dawn Fantasia, spokeswoman for the iLearn Schools, the umbrella group for a series of charter schools in the region including HASCS, also acknowledged that a lease agreement had been struck between the parties.

However, nothing will happen immediately regarding the St. Cecilia school space, she said.

Instead, the plan, she said, is for HASCS to expand to St. Cecilia “for the 2018-2019 school year.”

Ultimately, HASCS — which currently offers instruction for K through grade 5 at the old Mater Dei Academy building (former St. Stephen’s grammar school) on Midland Ave. leased from the Archdiocese — wants to accommodate K through grade 8, adding a new grade each year.

But, according to Fantasia, the school’s existing space is not big enough to handle that load and that is why the school is looking to widen its Kearny campus.

HASCS’s existing building on Midland will, however, have room to absorb the addition of grade 6 this coming September, Fantasia said.

With this planned growth to the current enrollment of 360, HASCS is projecting that there will be a “maximum of 69 students per grade” in the fall term, she said.

No decisions have yet been made as to which grades would be earmarked for placement at the St. Cecilia campus, she said.

Meanwhile, Fantasia said, HASCS is continuing its efforts to pin down a “satellite campus in Jersey City, for which we have state [Department of Education] approval,” to embrace a bigger load of its Jersey City students.

When HASCS received its initial state approvals to open in Kearny, charter school officials advised DOE that it expected its primary target enrollment would be students living in Kearny and Jersey City. It has accepted children from communities in other counties as well.

But the bulk of its students are from Kearny and, by state school law, the Kearny Board of Education is on the hook for up to 90% of tuition payments for those students attending HASCS.

For the 2017-2018 school year, the Kearny public school district has budgeted about $4.2 million for those mandated payments, up from last year’s figure of about $3 million.

Because of dwindling enrollment, St. Cecilia parish closed its 16,000-square-foot high school in 1982. An alternate high school program was temporarily lodged there but that left in 2010.

The parish shuttered its 3-story, 36,000-square-foot grammar school in 2002, but still uses a portion of the building for CCD classes.

Built in 1908, the school has a gym on its second floor, a cafeteria in the basement and 15 classrooms spread over its upper floors.

Learn more about the writer ...