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Cristo Rey school gets name and principal

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

     Omaha's new Cristo Rey high school, set to open August 2007, now has a name and much of its leadership team has been formed.

     The school, located in the former St. Mary School at 36th and Q streets in Omaha, will be called St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey Catholic High School. Father Jim Keiter, president of Assumption-Guadalupe School in Omaha, is its president.

     'I'm very excited to get back involved in high school education," said Father Keiter, who taught at Norfolk Catholic High School in Norfolk. 'We're exclusive to the poor and it's exciting to see education start thinking outside of the box "“ how can we serve the poor and still get our bills paid, but provide a very needed service to the community, the business community and our families here in Omaha?"

     Because of the school's location, many of the students who will attend St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey will be of black or Hispanic descent, which is why the name St. Peter Claver was chosen, he said.

     St. Peter Claver was a 16th century priest from Spain, who spent more than 40 years in present-day Columbia, South America, helping to free and educate black slaves who were coming from Africa.

     'We had a saint that really meshed with the black and the Hispanic," said Father Keiter, pastor of Assumption Parish in Omaha.

     The Omaha school, which will be open to all faith denominations, is one of 19 Cristo Rey schools in the country and the last one started in the United States, Father Keiter said. Exclusive to the poor, the school will provide students with the opportunity to attend classes and work at entry-level clerical jobs in the community throughout the school day.

     One of the standards the school must follow as part of the Cristo Rey network is that the families of the students who are applying for admission have to qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program.

     Nineteen local businesses have partnered with the school to provide 25 internships for the freshman class. Each full-time position will be filled by four students, with each student spending five days a month in the office.

     'The businesses get to play a pivotal role in helping form young people who are going to be future workers and leaders in Omaha," Father Keiter said.   

Leadership team

     The school's board of directors and much of its leadership team has already been formed. Lori Soto will serve as principal, Jim Pogge will be the director of the corporate internship program, and John Ryan will fill the business manager position. The school is in the process of hiring the director of admissions and director of development positions.

     Soto, who currently runs behaviorally disordered programs for the Millard School System, has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education and master's in Secondary School Administration and Special Education with an emphasis on behavioral disorders. Fluent in Spanish, she lived in Central Mexico for more than 15 years starting up businesses.

     'This school is perfect for me because it has everything in it that I've been very interested in throughout my life," Soto said. 'It just all comes together for me in this one institution."

     Soto said she believes St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey will benefit not only the students, but also the entire Omaha community.

     'Cultural diversity is a very important thing to me and I think that nothing can substitute for the real exposure and the real opportunity for people to know each other and work together and live together and participate together in the community," Soto said. 'Unfortunately when kids don't have the money to go to a school like this and then maybe go onto college, the intercommunication between those students and some of the other parts of our society are just not there. The opportunities aren't there. I think the potential for these students is just so great."

Renovation under way

     Rather than attempt a large capital campaign to raise money to build a new school building, the former St. Mary School building is being renovated to serve St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey students for a couple of years, Father Keiter said.

     'St. Mary's offers us a great place to start," he said, noting that the goal is a school capacity of 500 to 525 students. 'We know that St. Mary's won't be big enough for that, but it allows us to operate for a couple of years, really prove ourselves and prove the effectiveness of this type of school, where the school and the work is blended."

 

Want to teach or attend?

Those interested in teaching positions at St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey Catholic High School or in attending the school can contact Father Keiter at 734-4500 or at info@spccristorey.org.

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