Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence Asks Newark Archdiocese to Consider Petition By More Than 1,000 Faculty, Parents, Students, and Alumni
NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - In response to the recent announcement by the Archdiocese of Newark, which is closing ten schools beginning the 2020-2021 academic year, the faculty, parents, and alumni of the Academy of Our Lady of Peace (AOLP) have asked the archdiocese to reconsider their decision. With more than 1,200 signatures and close to 500 comments, the petition (https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keep-the-academy-of-our-lady-of-peace) urged the archdiocese to reevaluate their decision to close the school. Instead, the group would like for the archdiocese to open a dialogue with the parents to examine the necessary requirements to keep their beloved and award-winning blue ribbon school open for the next academic year.
Initial feedback from the school faculty, after the closure was announced during National Teacher Appreciation Week, indicated that discussions with the archdiocese were not welcome. This prompted families to create the petition in hopes of understanding the criteria used to make the decision.
Families would like to understand if, after so recently winning the national blue ribbon honor, the curriculum and quality of teaching were considered in this decision. They questioned the references to ongoing subsidies paid by the archdiocese to their school and how that compares to other schools of similar sizes.
There have been repercussions of a closing announcement so late in the school year. Due to the timing of the announcement, faculty have missed the timeline for applying for industry positions, which expired two months ago. If they choose to continue teaching in a Catholic school setting, they will most likely compete with a number of other displaced teachers from the nine other schools also announced to close.
While the archdiocese indicated in their letter to families that the school closures were not caused by COVID-19, students, parents and faculty have been severely handicapped in dealing with this abrupt closure and the petition aims to describe these issues for the school board and archdiocese staff.
Current “stay at home” orders prevent students and parents from viewing potential new classrooms and getting to know teachers and staff at these institutions. “My seventh grader is stressed because she has not seen her friends since mid-March, and she wonders if they will be together next year. She is concerned about her grades with distance learning. On top of that she is concerned that she will not have teachers to write recommendations for high school, which could affect her opportunity for scholarships. It is more than a 13-year-old should have to worry about,” said Patricia Payton, a parent at AOLP.
“Our family has been at the Academy for the past 10 years. My children will not be able to say goodbye to their school building, teachers, or friends who have been their family away from home for their entire childhood. The thought of getting back together as a school family has kept us going during this isolation period,” said Suzanne Fahy, Home School Association Board President, and mother of three current students and one alumna.
Parents, already juggling changes in work patterns and economic issues, now need to deal with the grief of losing a school and searching for a new one. Unfortunately for some of the Academy families, this is not the first Catholic school closure they have faced in recent years and they are second guessing the value of a Catholic education. A parent of two AOLP students, Donatella Verrico, expresses the concerns of many families, “One of the reasons we moved to a school in the Archdiocese of Newark was because we were assured, that the schools are supported by the Archdiocese themselves, and not the individual parishes, which ensured their continued success. Having dealt with a school closure previously with our children, that reassurance was the only reason we even decided to continue to pursue Catholic schools. Announcing such change, so close to the end of the school year and so abruptly, has many lasting effects on the children and coupling that with the change to virtual learning, is too much for the students. Since enrollment has been a continued issue for schools for a number of years, it seems absolutely unreasonable that the Archdiocese could not continue to support these students and teachers for at least one more year.”
About the Academy of Our Lady of Peace
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Peace was founded in February 1919 and by December of that year the first Mass in the new church was offered. In 1952 the present site on South Street was purchased. A school and basement church of dual-use design was ready for its first Mass in October of 1954. During the 1950’s New Providence was growing faster than the parish planners had envisioned. The plans for the church complex were enlarged and work began on more classrooms over the basement church and on the construction of a new multi-purpose room to serve as church, auditorium, cafeteria and gymnasium.
In 2004, the school celebrated its 50th Golden Anniversary. School parents, teachers, administration, parish members and alumni celebrated in the school auditorium with a wonderful dinner and various guest speakers.
In 2006, the school achieved a major milestone and received accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
In 2008, the school was officially approved by the Archdiocese of Newark to become an academy. The school administration, faculty, School Advisory Council and Home School Association all played a role in obtaining this honor and designation. The Archdiocese has set forth guidelines that encompass six areas: curriculum, instruction, accreditation, total formation, activities and governance. As a result, the school has been officially renamed to The Academy of Our Lady of Peace.
In order to achieve Academy status, a school must meet stringent criteria including additional curriculum requirements, a gifted and talented program, academically related activities, an Early Childhood program, and religious education. The school must also be accredited by the Middle States Association and have an active advisory board to assist the pastor and principal. As part of the review process the Archdiocese visited with school representatives, teachers and students and took note of the school’s excellent credentials.
After a lengthy process, the Archdiocese of Newark informed Our Lady of Peace School that its application to become an Academy was approved. The Archdiocese congratulated the school, stating that “truly the hard work of this community has created an academy where students and teachers strive for excellence, where they build up one another through encouragement and challenge, and where all achieve as a result of the dynamic teaching/learning interaction.”
Brother Ralph Darmento, Deputy Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Newark, states, “Academy designation implies that special skills and subjects are taught. It is not merely a merging of schools and inserting the word ‘academy’ into the school’s new name. There are very specific academic standards and enrichment programs that academies must have in order to earn that name.” Brother Darmento authored the guidelines for academy status in the archdiocese.