St. Nazianz’ Catholic school to close this spring after 134 years

St. Gregory School unable to meet goal of enrolling 20 students for next fall

ST. NAZIANZ — Despite an extensive recruitment effort, St. Gregory Catholic School will be closing after failing to reach a goal of 20 students for grades K-8 for the 2018-2019 school year. The graduating eighth grade class in June will conclude 134 years of history of Catholic education in the parish community.

St. Gregory School’s eighth grader Alayna Peterson describes her “seed saving” exhibit during St. Gregory School’s social studies fair March 15. The school announced March 22 that it will close at the end of the year. (Ray Mueller | For The Compass)

In a March 22 announcement, principal Rita Steffen credited the school’s staff, parents and parish leaders for their efforts both during the recent campaign and in the previous year “to grow the school.”

Steffen, who has been the principal since the spring of 2008, after first arriving at the school as a teacher in 1999, described the decision by the leaders of the parish and the school as “extremely difficult.”

They had sought an enrollment of 20 by March 15 for the new school year. “Even though this was an attainable goal, we fell short,” Steffen said.

A two-month recruitment campaign included phone calls, letters to parish members, postcards to area residents, paid newspaper advertisements, news releases to four area radio stations, testimonial letters to the editor in local newspapers, and an appeal by a current eighth grade student at weekend Masses at St. Gregory and Holy Trinity Parish in School Hill. A meeting for all interested persons was held on March 20.

In a letter to the parish, Steffen encouraged the current St. Gregory students to consider attending other Catholic schools in the area and promised to help them enroll. The closest possibilities are St. Mary/St. Michael in Clarks Mills, Divine Savior in Kiel, St. Francis of Assisi in Manitowoc, and Chilton Area Catholic School in Chilton.

St. Gregory Parish opened its first grade school in 1884 in a multi-level building that served grades one to eight until 1954. The parish built a high school, which opened in 1951 and operated until 1969.

In 1954, the seventh and eighth grades were moved into the high school building. That continued until 1969, when all eight grades were moved into the former high school and the original elementary school was demolished.

St. Gregory introduced a part-time kindergarten in 1991 and added a preschool in 1992. The kindergarten became full-time in 2003. In addition, a St. Gregory daycare program opened in the former parish rectory in 2003.

The K-8 staff includes art and middle school teacher Patty Wilhelm; music teacher Franciscan Sr. Marsaia Kaster; pre-K and physical education teacher Jordan Barbeau; primary teacher Laura Surman; and administrative assistant Mary Bonde. Kathy Schuh and Joann O’Neil are the school cooks.

Steffen, who also teaches math and religion, said the staff will continue to provide “quality education, activities and events for the remainder of the school year,” which concludes with the graduation of five eighth graders at Mass on Saturday, June 2.

Before the school closing announcement, students held their eighth annual social studies fair March 15. Fourteen students in grades four to eight prepared exhibits for their “Food in America” theme.

Their exhibits covered a smorgasbord of topics related to the theme. The displays combined photos, maps, computer-printed text, videos and other related materials, along with a reference to a “faith connection” or Scripture reading.

Although the students conducted most of their research online, Wilhelm pointed out that they were not permitted to use Wikipedia as a resource. Nor were their parents allowed to be contributors to the exhibit.

A “Best of Show” award was selected by the three judges. The winner was eighth grader Alayna Peterson for her “seed saving” exhibit. It addressed the loss of varieties in many plant species, the rule differences in various countries regarding genetically modified organisms, the importance of pollinators, the need for biodiversity, and the establishment of seed banks in several countries.

The judges conducted a tie-breaking oral presentation with Peterson and fellow 8th grader Julia Pitz, whose exhibit explored the benefits of grass-fed beef. Her display included a questionnaire, with four possible answers, on the amount of calories, protein, fats and sodium per ounce of grass-fed beef.

The judges included Amanda Kudick, a seventh and eighth grade mathematics teacher at St. Francis of Assisi School in Manitowoc; Steve Schmitz, instructor of the Kiel Greater Options (GO) Program in the Kiel Area School District; and Franciscan Sr. Marcolette Madden of the Department of Education at Silver Lake College in Manitowoc.

Exhibit topics by other eighth graders were: the pros and cons of Farm to Table by Isaac Egan; the main crops (corn, soybeans and winter wheat) grown in Wisconsin by Tim Hruby; and the history of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by Miranda Schneider.

Other students competing in the social studies fair were Zen Bonde, Jessica Hruby, Derick Lira, Sawyer Pitz, Mason Schneider, Andrick Lira and Cody Joas