St. Sylvester School in Brentwood to close

Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - Updated: 9:28 am

Pittsburgh Catholic Staff Report

In light of rapidly declining enrollment and in response to a request from Father Steve Kresak, administrator of the grouping in which St. Sylvester Parish and School are located, Bishop David Zubik has announced that St. Sylvester School in Brentwood will not reopen for the 2019-2020 school year. Arrangements are in place to help its 57 students attend a neighboring Catholic school.

“As one who benefited from Catholic education as a student for 24 years and 13 years on the other side of the desk as a teacher and administrator in secondary education, I truly feel the pain of this loss,” Bishop Zubik wrote in a July 15 letter to parishioners, faculty and school families.

His decision to close the school, effective immediately, was in response to a petition he received several months ago from the priest-administrator of the parish, who had consulted with the parish leadership councils about whether the parish could continue to support the school. Originally, Bishop Zubik had said that the school could remain open for an additional year so its future could be assessed by the yet-to-be-established board of the future South Hills Regional Catholic Elementary Schools. That board is expected to be established in July 2020.

In his July 15 letter, the bishop explained that in February 2019, when he had given permission for the school to remain open for one more year, 89 students had been enrolled. Subsequently, enrollment for 2019-2020 dropped to 57. Since February, he has received letters and e-mails from parents who supported and opposed keeping the school open.

“Most significantly, your priest-administrator, Father Steve Kresak, informed me that the number of enrolled students has dropped so dramatically that he had no choice but to renew his request to close the school,” Bishop Zubik wrote.

He also met on two separate occasions with several parents who took a leadership role in advocating for the school to remain open for an additional year.

In a recent meeting with several school parents who strongly supported keeping the school open, “I shared with them my serious concerns about the viability of the school, which have surfaced in light of an enrollment of 57 students. The major question that I posed at that meeting and which I share with you now is: ‘What is in the best interest of our students?’” the bishop wrote in his July 15 letter.

“Of greatest concern to me is our ability to provide a school environment that nurtures academic, spiritual, social and emotional formation at every grade level.”

He listed enrollment by grade level:

• Kindergarten: three students.

• First grade: no students.

• Second grade: one student.

• Third grade: seven students.

• Fourth grade: 11 students.

• Fifth grade: nine students.

• Sixth grade: two students.

• Seventh grade: seven students.

• Eighth grade: 17 students.

“These enrollment figures, reflecting the sharp decline of students since my earlier letter to you, have raised serious questions about the quality of education that students would receive. In addition, there must be concern about growing operating expenses and whether it is a wise use of financial resources to support such a small program,” the bishop wrote.

The parents with whom Bishop Zubik met had expressed concern about whether it would be possible to enroll their children in a neighboring Catholic school so close to the start of a new school year. “I can assure you that Mrs. Michelle Peduto, director of Catholic schools in our diocese, will work with you to enroll your students in another Catholic school,” the bishop wrote.

He explained that Father Kresak has committed St. Sylvester Parish to do the following:

• Any student who was enrolled at St. Sylvester for the 2018-2019 school year will receive a $1,000 scholarship to any other Catholic elementary school in which that student enrolls for the 2019-2020 academic year;

• Additional need-based scholarships from the St. Sylvester Angel Fund will continue to be available for students enrolled in another Catholic elementary school;

• St. Sylvester eighth-graders who graduate from any Catholic elementary school in June 2020 will receive a graduation certificate from St. Sylvester School;

• As needed, assistance will be provided for families to purchase new uniforms.

A special celebration will be planned to honor the legacy of St. Sylvester School and all that it has meant to the students who have passed through its doors, and to St. Sylvester Parish. The date of that celebration has yet to be determined.

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