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Sacred Heart Elementary School in Waterloo.

WATERLOO — Sacred Heart School will hold its final classes this spring as Cedar Valley Catholic Schools moves to single preschool and elementary locations.

The Board of Education Thursday unanimously voted to consolidate 3- and 4-year-old preschool at Blessed Sacrament School and kindergarten through fifth-grade at St. Edward School beginning next fall. Both schools will also offer day care services. Sacred Heart, the third CVCS elementary school, will close.

Board members discussed three options — dubbed A, B and C — before making the decision. They emerged from input at recent Waterloo parish town hall meetings that drew 175 people. It was the second round of input meetings for parents and parishioners in a months-long process to ensure the Waterloo Catholic school system will remain financially sustainable.

Early on, board president Mark Sinnwell expressed a preference for not duplicating any grades between buildings, as in Options B and C. In Option A, preschool to fifth grade would have been offered at both Blessed Sacrament and St. Edward. Option C is the one the board eventually settled on.

“My problem with Plan A versus B and C is we’re going to end up in the same boat as this year,” he said, where inefficiently small class sizes led to moving Sacred Heart’s fourth- and fifth-graders to the other two schools. Sinnwell viewed Option A as a short-term solution that won’t change the final result. “If we do that, then in two years we’re going to say everyone has to go to one school,” he suggested.

The specter of closing Sacred Heart was first raised in early June, when a report by IGS Struxture Architects assessing facilities laid out four elementary consolidation options. They included closing one, two or all three of the schools — but each would have shuttered the building south of downtown.

After a groundswell of concern over the potential loss of the school as early as this fall, though, the board voted to keep Sacred Heart open for the next year. Burmese immigrants who live in that neighborhood and send their children to the school were among those voicing objections to the board’s quick pace.

The Rev. Scott Bullock, a member of the board, acknowledged Thursday that they were moving too fast with merger plans in June. The effort to slow down provided “more time for feedback,” including assessing the needs of Burmese community members.

“We tried really hard to listen to that,” he said. “I think we’re in a better place certainly after taking time to listen to folks.”

The main point Sinnwell heard from Burmese residents was they don’t want to “give up Catholic education.” As long as it remains an option, they told him, “we don’t care where it’s at.”

Across the three elementary schools this year, there are 76 students in both kindergarten and first grade, 58 in second grade, 65 in third grade, 50 in fourth grade, and 62 in fifth grade.

Board member Jeff Fitzpatrick questioned if there is a room at St. Edward School for all grade levels, especially those ranging from 60 to more than 70 students.

“There are a couple spaces there that aren’t currently being used as classrooms that we would have to convert back,” said Chief Administrator Tom Novotney. With 16 to 20 students in each class, there would then be room for four kindergarten and first-grade sections and three sections of the four other classes. The consolidated school is not expected to cause a reduction in classroom teachers.

“If we go to one school, then those kids have that same class from kindergarten to 12th grade,” said Sinnwell. Students who remain in the system go on to single middle and high schools.

Board member Jenny Hemesath saw advantages with multiple sections of each grade level in the same building. It offers opportunities for collaboration between teachers and moving students between classrooms based on skill level in individual subjects, she noted. “Those are some strengths that I can identify,” she said.

With kindergarten through fifth-grade at St. Edward, she also saw greater possibilities to generate revenue in expanded daycare and preschool classes at Blessed Sacrament School. Hemesath suggested those programs could also be “safe entry points into our parishes” that may lead to enrolling in CVCS kindergarten.

“Option C is the one that punches the list for me,” she added. “I don’t want to have these conversations again in two to three years.”

Board member Josh Van Besien agreed: “I think Option C provides the most stability.”

The Rev. Tony Kruse, another board member, said his heart was “torn” over the best choice, but that “just the visual” of unity represented by Option C was important.

“We’re one system, we’re one faith,” he said. “We’re coming together. We’re all changing.”

Board member Bill Rhomberg suggested a single school would need a different identity as it drew students from all the current attendance areas. “I propose that we rebrand the school,” he said.

Novotney said any process to rename the schools would include submitting ideas to the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

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Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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