Educators, students credited for efforts in the North Hills

Sunday, June 03, 2018 - Updated: 11:59 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

It was a year filled with changes and challenges, but eighth-grader Bridget Lucas embraced the experience of moving to a new school.

“I thought overall it was a great year,” said Lucas, a member of the first graduating class of Holy Cross Academy in Ross Township, created through the merger of St. Sebastian and St. Teresa of Avila schools. “There were definitely some challenges. I had to put myself out there to make new friends.”

Longtime St. Teresa social studies and religion teacher Jackie Mueller, who was interviewed with Lucas on the diocese’s Catholic Education Plus radio program, agreed that coming to the new school was an adjustment.

“There was a lot of give-and-take,” Mueller said, crediting in part the leadership of Principal John Benzing. “It was difficult at first, but I met a lot of wonderful people who guided me through it.”

The regionalization effort that began last July in the North Hills brought together all of the parish elementary schools within the region under a new governance structure with a goal that every parish in the area has responsibility for and a voice in Catholic education. St. Alexis and St. Alphonsus schools in Wexford merged to become Blessed Francis Seelos Academy. St. Mary of the Assumption, St. Bonaventure and St. Ursula schools came together to form Blessed Trinity Academy in Glenshaw.

St. James School in Sewickley and Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy in Aspinwall are also in the North Hills region. In the fall, Assumption School in Bellevue and Northside Catholic in Pittsburgh’s Brighton Heights neighborhood will merge to form a new school (see related article above).

The changes are part of the On Mission for The Church Alive! school regionalization effort to help families have access to Catholic schools that are academically excellent, spiritually vibrant and financially sustainable. Regionalization is underway in the Pittsburgh-East region, and next will take place in the southern and northwestern areas of the diocese.

This September, two early childhood programs in the North Hills will consolidate locations. The Holy Cross preschool will move from St. Teresa to the St. Sebastian site, and Blessed Trinity’s pre-kindergarten will relocate from St. Bonaventure to the St. Mary location, according to Mike Killmeyer, administrator of the North Hills Regional Catholic Elementary Schools. Blessed Francis Seelos Academy’s early childhood center will remain at the St. Alexis site.

“I think the first year of school regionalization in the North Hills has gone exceptionally well,” Killmeyer said. “Our classrooms are fuller but still small enough for personalized learning. Teachers are collaborating, and we are ensuring that all students are active in liturgies.”

“We have worked hard to try to blend school traditions,” said Robert Reese, principal of Blessed Francis Seelos Academy. “Students made new friends, teachers are coming together as a team, and principals are working together really well in planning projects and calendars.”

“I give our teachers a lot of credit,” said Jessica Rock, principal of Blessed Trinity Academy. “About two-thirds of them were new to the K-8 building, and they are adjusting as we bring together three communities.”

Rock said some families who had left the new school returned, saying they missed the people.

Regionalization is intended to reinforce Catholic identity and mission; reallocate resources to enhance academics; stabilize enrollment; and enable greater collaboration in curriculum, technology, professional development, athletics and fundraising.

Lucas once again is looking ahead, getting ready to attend North Hills High this fall.

“I’m really excited to go to a non-Catholic school so I can spread my faith, not just through my words but through my actions,” Lucas said.

Catholic Education Plus, hosted by Father Tom Burke, will air Sunday, June 10, at 6:30 a.m. on KDKA-AM. The program also will be available online at kdkaradio.radio.com/media/podcast/catholic-education-plus.

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