Catholic school system holds open house for Green Bay classical school

By Sean Schultz | For The Compass | November 5, 2014

GREEN BAY — The former St. Joseph School at 936 Ninth St. is going classical and has the interest of plenty of families. The first information session and open house, held on Nov. 1, saw a steady stream of eager parents and one potential kindergartner who said she “wanted to start class today.”

Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, left, president of the Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) System, speaks to Laura Kerscher during an open house Nov. 1 for the St. John Paul II Classical School. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, left, president of the Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) System, speaks to Laura Kerscher during an open house Nov. 1 for the St. John Paul II Classical School. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The plan is to launch the new school, named for the late Pope John Paul II, next September. But families are already enrolling their children in the school’s planned Early Childhood Education Program as well as grades K-3. Plans are to add a grade each year through eighth grade.

The new school, the first of its kind among the Catholic schools in Green Bay, is allowing enrollment earlier than usual in the Diocese of Green Bay, according to Norbertine Fr. Dane Radecki, president of the GRACE (Green Bay Area Catholic Education) System. “Typically enrollment is held during Catholic Schools Week at the end of January,” said Fr. Radecki. “But we need to have a better sense before we hire teachers.”

That job will fall to the new headmaster, a position that will be advertised shortly. Fr. Radecki said he hopes to have a headmaster in place in January “so that leader can develop the curriculum and begin hiring.” The headmaster will “get the school grounded,” he suggested.

Students and staff will find an old school building, one that housed St. Joseph Elementary School for years, to be “in beautiful condition,” according to Nancy Jensen, who was conducting tours.

Kindergarten students will meet in a first-floor classroom. The second floor will be home to grades K-3 as well as the school office. The basement level gives access to a cafeteria and rooms for indoor recess on inclement weather days.

Jensen is part of a five-member committee that has been assisting Fr. Radecki since the inception of the school and will stay on to assist the headmaster. Other members include Chris Shaw, John Cavil, Carol Ricken and Pilar McDermott.

But families will find a new emphasis on the way their children are educated, one that has proven successful in Wisconsin. Fr. Radecki said the school will be “organized around the idea of the trivium” method of learning.

“The first years of learning focus on basic facts. Children engage in memorization and facts ‘to lay the foundation,’” he said, adding content and language to form a foundation for critical thinking. “Grades 5-8 will work more with logic, putting facts together in a logical and rational manner.”

Organization and debate using the Socratic method will be employed. The high school grades in a trivium involve rhetoric, critical thinking and intellectual debate.

Other classical schools exist in Wisconsin. Fr. Radecki visited a Milwaukee classical school with 17 years’ experience. A Kaukauna Catholic school has a classical curriculum, as does Providence Academy, a Christian school in Green Bay.

An early survey of area parents found interest highest among home schooling parents (43 percent), followed by those already in GRACE schools (30 percent), and 20 percent of those attending public school. Families are willing to travel 30 miles or more to bring their children to St. John Paul II.

Fr. Radecki noted some concern from parents who would be transferring their children from the traditional classroom setting to a classical program. He said teachers will be well prepared to help those students fit in and catch up, if necessary, with no extra preparation expected of the parents.

Organizers are planning for 18 to 22 students per classroom with five classrooms. Tuition will be the same as at other GRACE schools, as will staff salaries. The same financial aid program will be in place, Fr. Radecki said, but neither the Wisconsin Parental School Choice Program nor student busing will be offered.

The school will continue to share space with St. Joseph Parish religious education program and with high school-age Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) students who hold retreats and weekend events at the school.

A fund-raising committee has already garnered $100,000 toward its $125,000 goal for startup costs.

The GRACE Board will govern the school. “We will form an advisory committee whose members are familiar with the classical curriculum,” Fr. Radecki said.

Chris Shaw is one of the classical school proponents on the advisory committee and helping to get St. John Paul II launched and bringing insights from parents. He was earlier involved with the former Mount Carmel Academy housed at Ss. Peter and Paul School.

“The goal as we launch it is to fill students’ minds with the good and holy teachings of the church,” Shaw said. “It really has an appeal to families who are seeking a foundation in education that they’re not finding in the other options they have.

“The Holy Spirit is calling them to become part of what really can grow into a solid, classical school in the heart of our diocese,” Shaw added.

To learn more about the St. John Paul II Classical School, contact the GRACE office, (920) 499-7330, or go to www.gracesystem.org.

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