NAUGATUCK — A new Catholic school is preparing to open its doors to students for the first time Aug. 31. After the borough’s two Catholic schools merged last year due to low enrollment and financial troubles, the new St. Francis-St. Hedwig School rose from the ashes.
Housed in the former St. Francis school on Church Street, the merged school is led by the former principal of St. Hedwig, John Salatto.
“Merging the two schools was a much bigger job that I thought it would be,” Salatto said.
Salatto and his staff of teachers from both former schools have been working hard over the summer to bring school supplies over from St. Hedwig.
The two schools retained most of their students in the merger. Salatto said enrollment at St. Francis-St. Hedwig is currently around 260.
Last year, enrollment at the separate schools was about 150 students. During the merger process, it was anticipated that the merged school would need 218 students to be financially stable.
Salatto added the school is in the process of hiring another pre-kindergarten teacher to accept some more students on a waiting list.
In addition to former St. Francis and St. Hedwig students, Salatto said the new school has pulled in a number of new students who were not associated with either school.
“Everything went smoothly except for the name change,” Salatto said.
Originally, the Archdiocese of Hartford wanted to call the new school St. Theresa, but changed it to St. Francis–St. Hedwig School after months of public outcry from former students and parents.
“It created a bad taste in some people’s mouth,” said St. Francis–St. Hedwig Board of Education member Gil Kirby.
Salatto said creating the new school was a group effort.
“Once that issue was resolved, it died very quickly and everyone jumped onboard, most moved quickly to establish a school not only we are proud of, but our parents and students too,” Salatto said.
Kirby said his daughter is excited to attend the new school. She formally attended St. Hedwig.
“I think the excitement comes from the fact that there are new kids because we’re bringing the two schools together,” Kirby said.
Kirby said many of the students from both schools have played sports together and know each other through other town and church activities. The merged school will give those students a chance to solidify old friendships and create new ones, he said.
“I think there’s renewed enthusiasm,” Salatto said.
Kirby said the blended school board, which includes 13 members, has been very cooperative with the process. The two former boards usually had nine to 11 members, but some members’ terms were up and others stepped aside to create the new board, Kirby said.
“It really worked out,” he said.
With the start of school only days away fourth grade teacher Leslie Biggins was busy cutting out a paper octopus Tuesday morning. She said she had to bring a lot of stuff over from her classroom at St. Hedwig, where she worked for five years.
“I know it will be a good merge. It’s a good change. I’m looking forward to it,” Biggins said.
Other than a new series of math and reading books, Biggins said everything would be the same. The biggest change for St. Hedwig students will be adjusting to a four-floor school instead of one.
“I think the kids are going to be fine,” she said.
Louise Stack, a seventh grade math teacher, was just about finished unpacking 27 years worth of teaching supplies from St. Hedwig Tuesday morning.
Last week, she said, three of her students from each school helped her set up her classroom.
“The kids worked together beautifully,” she said.
Of her class of 20, Stacks said nine students are from St. Francis, six are from St. Hedwig, and five are new to the borough’s Catholic schools.
Stacks said she plans to continue doing what worked well and developing her curriculum with new ideas.
Stacks said she can integrate Catholic teachings into her math class through real-life math problems, like donating a certain percent of a student’s allowance to a worthy cause or counting the number of hours worked in community service.
“You can throw math into everything,” Cervone said. “We really anticipate a really great year of working together and learning and following in Jesus’ footsteps.”
The school is holding a welcome-back hotdog and ice cream social Aug. 29 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the field. The archbishop will officially open the school on Sept. 21 at 10 a.m., but school starts for students with a half day Aug. 31 from 8:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.