GREEN BAY — When the new school year begins on Aug. 30, a new facility will offer St. Thomas More Catholic School students and families an “improvement of teaching and learning,” said the school’s principal, Olgamar Amor.
The school will begin the 2018-2019 academic year at its new location at 1420 Harvey St. in Green Bay next to SS. Peter and Paul Church. It was formerly located on 650 S. Irwin Ave. Amor said the new location allows for more opportunities to grow and to “serve families in a holistic way.”
When Amor became the school’s principal in 2015, the enrollment was about 90 students. This year’s enrollment is 167 students and the school has had a waitlist since June.
The new location has the capacity to accommodate 300 students and the school staff’s goal is to increase its growth by 20 percent each year.
St. Thomas More is part of the Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) school system. Kimberly Desotell, GRACE president, said the school’s rate of growth allows new students to become orientated, while still focusing on current students.
“This growth has given us a beautiful and bigger family,” said Amor. Although enrollment is increasing, she said the school strives for small class sizes, with larger classes consisting of 22 students.
Desotell said the goal is for the school to be an “urban Catholic education center” that focuses on “serving the whole family,” such as providing daycare to children from birth to age 3.
“The community around us is changing and we are adapting to that change with this school,” said Desotell. She said the school’s new location is centrally located and makes the school more visible in the community that it serves.
The majority of families attending St. Thomas More School are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English. The school offers an immersion program for English as a second language learners starting at 3 years old. When students in the program reach kindergarten, they learn to read, write and speak in both English and Spanish.
“There is more bilingual instruction going on at this school than at any of our other Catholic schools,” said Desotell. She said the school’s enrollment growth caused the staff to think about how to use the parish to better serve families and the new location provides more opportunities for the school to work with local Hispanic ministries.
“We want a premiere school that offers a Catholic education to a diverse community,” said Desotell. She said the goal is to help the school’s families with any need they may have.
Staff decided to keep the brightly colored hallway and classroom walls on the first floor left from the Green Bay Public School Headstart program that had previously used the building. The elementary school uses the first floor. The middle school, located on the second floor, has a focus on “project-based learning,” said Amor. While some classrooms have a more traditional setup, other classrooms have high-top tables and chairs that create a group setting for students. John Dewey Academy of Learning, a public charter school, leases the third floor of the building.
St. Thomas More School began as a dual-location school when it first opened in 1987. Half of the school was located at the SS. Peter and Paul Church site and the other half was located at the St. Mary of the Angels site at 650 S. Irwin Ave. in Green Bay.
In 1995, the entire school transferred to the St. Mary of the Angels site, where the school was located until 2018. St. Thomas More School is supported by St. Mary of the Angels, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, St. John the Evangelist, St. Philip the Apostle and St. Willebrord parishes, said Desotell.
“We have donors that allowed us to have new furniture in order to give students more flexible seating, as well as more opportunities in the classroom to increase teaching and learning,” said Amor. The school also received a safety grant from the Department of Justice to improve the building’s amenities.
“In a little bit of a way, it’s like opening the doors of a brand new school,” said Desotell. The school has had to make adjustments to safety procedures, bus routes, building amenities and school programming to accommodate the new location. A planning team, consisting of Amor, the school’s staff, parish members and the pastor, Franciscan Fr. Tony Cirignani, helped the school plan for adjustments.