Tonawanda News — Shocked. Devastated. Stunned. Blindsided.
As the events of Wednesday settled into reality for thousands of families throughout Western New York, those are words the people associated with St. Francis of Assisi School in the City of Tonawanda used to describe their reaction to the news the last Catholic elementary school in the Twin Cities will close at the end of the school year.
“We were shocked,” St. Francis Principal Colleen Politowski said during an interview Thursday at her office. “We really didn’t believe we were going to close.
“We’ve increased enrollment for the past 10 years. This is in the face of demographics going down in this area.”
St. Francis, with 186 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, is the largest of 10 schools slated by the Buffalo Catholic Diocese to close at the end of the school year. Politowski said the school just had two new students register for prekindergarten and two tours for prospective students scheduled for today.
“We were doing really well with enrollment,” she said. “We really were.”
Louise Lopardi, who has more than 20 years of experience at the since-closed St. Paul’s School in Kenmore and has filled a number of roles at St. Francis over the past seven years, was one of a number of people who used the word “blindsided” to describe her reaction.
“(Before the announcement) I’ve walked around the building talking to teachers, saying ‘Oh, it’s going to be all right.’ And it’s not all right,” she said. “I’ve seen this school grow and blossom. We’ve had a lot of families come here who probably couldn’t afford another Catholic education. This is a home for them. And the parish embraces the school.
“I’ve been in Catholic education for 45 years. Schools with a lot fewer students than we have remain open. Schools that don’t have programs we have.”