The parents and students of Saint Gabriel School in Riverdale had a terrible week, for sure.
They were told their school is one of 16 Bronx Catholic schools the Archdiocese of New York was closing or merging in the 2023-24 academic year. It was sad how they found out about the news: the rumor mill.
Saint Gabriel School will merge with St. Margaret of Cortona, and be located on the latter school’s Riverdale Avenue campus. The new school will be called St. Margaret of Cortona-St. Gabriel School.
The whole situation was carried out in a very corporate way. The news was leaked less than a week before the official announcement. Alas, parents and alumni had barely enough time to stage a rally a day before Cardinal Timothy Dolan issued a news release. In total, Dolan announced the Archdiocese is closing 12 schools and merging four.
The release included what reporters would call “canned quotes” from Cardinal Dolan and superintendent Michael Deegan that were quite similar to a 2017 announcement about similar closings.
“We are doing everything we can to minimize the impact this will have on families and will provide both educational guidance and pastoral support to all those affected to ensure all children will be warmly welcomed into a nearby Catholic school,” Dolan said. “We are all in this together, and with hard work and God’s blessings, we will come out on the other side.”
Just like a public company that announces layoffs and plant closures, the Archdiocese cited falling numbers and the impact of Covid-19.
“Unfortunately, due to shifting demographics and lower enrollment made worse by the pandemic, the impact to the financial stability of these schools was detrimental,” the statement read.
And just like a company that offers to “help” a dislocated worker find a job, the Archdiocese said it would “help” families find a new home in neighboring Catholic schools, with applications for financial aid and scholarships available for the upcoming academic year where applicable.
Over the past 12 years, the Archdiocese has closed nearly 100 Catholic schools and merged a small number. The latest closures in the Bronx include: Holy Family School, Immaculate Conception School, Santa Maria School, St. Angela Merici School, St. Brendan School, St. Margaret Mary School.
St. Francis Xavier will merge with St. Clare of Assisi.
The new St. Margaret of Cortona-St. Gabriel School merger faces myriad logistical problems as 500-plus students are expected to attend a school building that only fits about 300.
The student-to-teacher ratio is bound to be doubled to 30-to-1. Right now, both schools have about 16-to-1 ratios. Both schools only have about 12 full-time teachers each.
With fewer than seven months until the next school year, the merger is going to need more oversight than the Archdiocese. The community needs to look at possible overcrowding, bus traffic on Riverdale Avenue, and the possibility of students entering the public school system if there is not enough room in the new school or other nearby Catholic schools.
Community Board 8 and local electeds are going to have to get involved. This situation will impact all.