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Decision pending on Cristo Rey high school

By Randy Grosse
The Catholic Voice

A decision on a proposed Cristo Rey high school in Omaha should be made before the end of September.

That's the time line local officials are expecting after recently submitting a feasibility study on the school to the Cristo Rey Network and the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation.

While Catholic school officials have been involved in the project – writing a grant proposal and doing the study – since the spring of 2004, the final decision is out of their hands.

But they are hopeful.

Sister Michelle Faltus, SFSS, archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said local studies show a need for the school, which would serve economically disadvantaged students from the inner city. The archdiocese would be the official sponsor of the school, with corporate sponsors providing jobs for the school's internship program.

"I am convinced of the necessity and great service that a Cristo Rey high school could provide for these young people of definite economic need in Omaha," Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss wrote in his letter offering to sponsor the school.

Vance Valerio, Ph.D., the educational consultant who conducted the study and prepared the report and proposal, said the number of corporate sponsors reflects solid support in the community. Nineteen businesses have made commitments for 25 internships for the school, he said.

If approved, the school would be eligible to receive up to $1 million in grant funding to help meet start-up costs and plans call for the school to open the fall of 2007 with a freshman class.

Designed for students of any faith who might not have the opportunity to attend a Catholic school, a Cristo Rey high school provides a college-prep, work-study-based education.

Through the work-study program, students serve as corporate interns in law offices, banks, hospitals, marketing firms and various other businesses. The income from the internships typically covers about 75 percent of the student's tuition.

Of the parents participating in the study, 90 percent were interested and willing to have their children attend Catholic high schools, but almost 40 percent said the cost is too high.

The cost issue is one reason a Cristo Rey school is so important in reaching out to these families, Sister Faltus said.

The first Cristo Rey high school was opened by the Jesuits in Chicago in 1996. Eleven such schools are now operating throughout the country, and two others are planned.

Omaha is one of nine cities conducting feasibility studies for future schools.

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