Principal Trish Wallinger tackled change head-on the first day of classes Thursday at Sts. Peter and Paul School.
Some of the students that first morning were returning to the school near 36th and X Streets. But most of the rest had come from the now-closed Assumption-Guadalupe School.
While they'd been together for a meet-and-greet last year and a back-to-school picnic earlier in the week, this was the first day of their new start under one roof.
Wallinger welcomed them and assured them they'd all make new friends.
“By the end of next week, you'll think this is nothing different than we did before,” she said.
That's the hope across the five southeast Omaha schools that have reopened for the first time under the new Omaha Catholic School Consortium.
The creation of the consortium, and last spring's closings of Assumption, St. Stanislaus and Holy Ghost schools are part of a realignment of Catholic grade schools in east Omaha.
That realignment, in turn, is a piece of a larger plan by the Archdiocese of Omaha to strengthen area parishes and schools.
The consortium brings the five schools under a single administration with common tuition, teacher salaries, marketing and fundraising. The four other consortium schools are Holy Cross, Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Thomas More in Omaha and St. Bernadette in Bellevue.
As of Thursday, first-day enrollment at the five schools stood at 1,216 for kindergarten through eighth grade, up 16 percent from 1,047 last November.
|Consortium schools enrollment, grades K through 8|
|November 2012||Aug. 15, 2013|
|Our Lady of Lourdes||210||224|
|Sts. Peter and Paul||109||178|
|St. Thomas More||201||260|
|Source: Omaha Catholic School Consortium|
Monsignor James Gilg, who was appointed the consortium's executive director last August, said the early numbers look good.
“I've been extremely impressed with the vitality of the schools, the enthusiasm of the people involved for this even though they have some anxieties,” he said.
But the consortium, he said, still has a ways to go to reach its goal of 2,250 students, with two full classrooms for each grade in each school.
Four of the five schools have enrollment gains, with the fifth holding steady. Officials expect some additional students over the next couple of weeks. Sts. Peter and Paul was still getting calls from parents asking whether there was room for their children.
The counts include students from the three closed schools. Gilg estimated that 85 percent or more of students from St. Stanislaus were going on to consortium schools, 55 percent or more from Holy Ghost and upward of 90 percent from Assumption-Guadalupe.
Schools officials had hoped that many of Assumption-Guadalupe's families, most of whom are Latino, would make a new home at Sts. Peter and Paul.
The archdiocese has been working to make the school more welcoming to those families.
Gilg and others acknowledged the realignment will take some adjustment across the consortium schools.
Mom Maria Perez, who managed the kitchen at Assumption-Guadalupe and now works part-time at Sts. Peter and Paul, said her two daughters, one a third-grader and the other in sixth grade, were a little nervous about coming to a new school.
“Maybe the change is for good,” she told them. “You don't know until you go to school and you see.”
Chelsea Harvey, a first-grade teacher who taught third grade at Assumption-Guadalupe the past three years, said the students appeared to be transitioning well.
Theresa Brennan, who's in her 30th year of teaching at Sts. Peter and Paul, 26 of them in third grade, is making a change to second grade, as well as getting to know a new group of students. “It's a new adventure for me, too,” she said.
But she and others said they were excited to see the larger group of students this year.
Parent Lucia Guardado was all smiles as she eyed the lines of students. “A lot of kids,” she said.
She said her daughter, third-grader Alondra Padilla, was glad to have more students in her class.
For Guardado, the larger group provided reassurance. She'd worried that too few could mean the school, the last Catholic grade school in the heavily Latino area of South Omaha, could close.
And there were no tears as there were last year when Assumption-Guadalupe closed last spring.
Second-grader Karina Rodriguez, one of those who'd cried last year, said she felt “a little bit better.”
After the opening assembly Thursday, the rest of the morning was typical first-day fodder — sorting pencils, stowing tissue boxes and handing out books.
“It's the first day,” Wallinger said. “We have to work out all the kinks.”