ALLOUEZ — Elizabeth (Libby) Rickards admits that she was a bit apprehensive at the start of the school year. She had attended St. Matthew School since kindergarten and now, in eighth grade, needed to transition to the Resurrection Campus of the new Father Allouez Catholic School, formed by the merger of St. Matthew and Resurrection into one school with two campuses.
“I was a little scared because it’s a new school, a new place,” said Rickards. “I got a little bit nervous, but then I was OK. Everyone mixed together really nicely.”
The opening of Father Allouez Catholic School in the fall marked the culmination of a three-year reorganization process. Contributions from administration, the pastors, faculty, staff, parents, parish members and students brought the two school communities’ long histories together. St. Matthew School marked 90 years of Catholic education last year and Resurrection School’s roots date back to the early 1960s. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau, pastor at Resurrection Parish, said two governing factors led to the change.
“Stewardship, the use of resources, was one,” he said. “Number two, what’s best for students. A class of nine kids just isn’t good.”
The smallest class at the school has 18 students, while the largest has 27.
“We had one classroom of each grade level in each building, so now, for the most part, we have two classrooms of each grade level,” said Kay Franz, principal.
“It made a lot of sense because (since) becoming part of GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education), our budgets were merging in different areas,” she added. “We were two buildings a mile apart. We were spending money on renting second grade science kits for that building and that building, for example. If we brought them together, we would have one expense. To consolidate the resources and be good stewards of finances, the fact that we were working with GRACE, it became more apparent to the parishes how (becoming one school) would be advantageous.”
“Father Allouez Catholic School is one example of our commitment to growing our Catholic schools and parishes in greater Green Bay,” said Kim Desotell, GRACE president. “Our partnerships with St. Matthew Parish, Resurrection Parish and all 23 supporting parishes, have never been stronger. Together, we will celebrate the value of Catholic education and work collectively to grow our faith in our parishes and communities.”
Once the two-campus model was selected, the next action was to decide which grades would be housed at each site.
The reorganization committee looked carefully at both school sites to determine the best fits. Pre-K through grade four students attend the St. Matthew campus. Grades five through eight are housed at the Resurrection campus.
“Some driving factors were the gymnasium and soccer field at Resurrection,” said Mary Burich, a committee member, parent, Resurrection parishioner and board of trustees member. “The playground at St. Matthew was more conducive to the younger students. We looked at the libraries. They are multimedia centers and are now very much age appropriate. We have the LEGO board for the ‘youngers’ and cool new seating for the ‘olders’ with meeting spaces and white board spaces for collaboration.”
Concerns were raised about losing the interaction between the older students and the younger children. Students from the two campuses join together once a month.
“When you have one campus, you can buddy the eighth graders with the lower grades,” said Fr. Bob Kabat, pastor at St. Matthew. “You will see a lot of that going on during these combined days. The older kids with the younger kids, that’s a high value for the school. We’ve kept that.”
“That’s where I see the older kids shine the most, when they are responsible for an activity with a younger student,” said Franz. “We wanted to make sure that leadership component for the older students didn’t disappear.”
New leaders have developed from the two-campus model.
“We were initially worried about having fourth graders as leaders of the pack at St. Matthew,” said Fr. Kabat. “That has worked well for them to be in a new role that they would not have had for four more years.”
Some families needed to adjust to having students at two campuses.
“We have one (parish) family with seven kids at four different (public) schools, so I didn’t see two campuses as a bad situation,” said Bishop Morneau.
To accommodate families, administration worked with Green Bay Area Public School District to arrange for a shuttle bus to run between campuses.
“Parents can still drop off their students at (Resurrection) and they are shuttled over to St. Matt’s and back,” said Franz. “We have approximately 18 students who ride the shuttle bus.”
Franz splits her time at both campuses. Only two teachers — art and physical education — serve at both sites. Some of the other teachers had to leave their longtime classrooms, but the staff is being utilized more productively, said Franz.
“When we had three middle school teachers at each campus instead of six, for the core subjects, they were teaching two subjects,” she explained. “Now that they are all in one building, they can specialize in the area in which they hold their license. Everyone has adjusted.”
Events and traditions were kept at both sites this first year, which has been a bit overwhelming, said Franz.
“It’s a lot. Some things we need to start weeding out,” she said, “but to have lost it in the first year, something they really liked, would not have been a good idea.”
The two campuses and parishes collaborated for a major fundraising effort. St. Matthew traditionally held a fall auction, while Resurrection’s auction was in the spring. One event was held this year to support Father Allouez School.
“This year, we had it on St. Matt’s time frame at Resurrection,” explained Burich. “The sponsorship, the support from the business community, parents, the parishes and students was phenomenal. The funds we raised were beyond our wildest dreams.”
“The parishes are doing more and more together,” said Bishop Morneau. “Fr. Bob (Kabat) is here two days a month. I’m over there two days a month. There is much more collaboration, which is good for everybody.”
Fr. Kabat is grateful to Bishop Ricken for selecting Father Allouez as the school name.
“A lot of people who live in Allouez don’t realize that the village is named after a Catholic priest,” he said “Identifying the school with the area has been wonderful.”
The students chose Wolves as the school mascot. The school colors — blue, green and white — are a combination of the St. Matthew and Resurrection colors.
Rickards said she was proud to represent her school in soccer. Other school sports include basketball, cross country, track and golf. There are also now more clubs available to students, including technology club, forensics, book club and art club.
“The reason we are able to offer more is our staff is not spread so thin,” said Franz. “We don’t have to do it at two sites.”
“That quality, vibrant Catholic education is shaped not only now, but for the future,” said Burich. “Change is a scary, scary word, but I don’t think we would have been able to improve without change.”