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Jennifer Smith teaches sixth graders at Fredericktown Elementary School these days, but once, she was a student at the school herself. That’s what made the news that the school will be closing after this year even tougher for Smith to hear Monday night.
“I’m from that community. I grew up in the Burg, and as a community, you hate to lose it,” she said of the school. “I’m going to look at it as ‘maybe there could still be a miracle.’ I’m just hoping that something good happens.”
It will take something near a miracle for a change at this point. Board members discussed the closure of the school at Monday night’s meeting, but no changes were made to a decision that initially came on March 17 of this year to close the school if it did not reach an enrollment of at least 90 students.
Enrollment at the school is currently 75 students, and that number has dipped recently, according to Father Chris Allegra, pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Fredericktown and Holy Rosary at Manton.
Allegra attended Monday night’s school board meeting, and though he said he is sad to see the school closing after more than 100 years in the community, he also said he is not surprised.
“Superintendent Robert Stafford and assistant superintendent Jim Hamm spoke with me, and they said they were both new here, but they didn’t foresee any changes in the policy, and I don’t blame them,” Allegra said. “Fredericktown has been a glorious school, and we’re very proud of it, but I guess the time has come for it to pass on. We’re going to try to end it with a big positive note.”
Allegra said he addressed more than 600 people and talked about the school’s future during masses in recent weeks, but he heard no outcry to try to save the school in the eleventh hour.
“I really thought someone would say, ‘Let’s get a petition together,’ but nothing was said. There was no objection, and everybody seemed resigned to the fact that this is it,” he said. “This looks like it will be the final year, and the school has had a long and glorious career. It just doesn’t look like it is going any further.”
Fredericktown Elementary may close, but that doesn’t mean there will not be a school in the community. Allegra said he has met with representatives from Bluegrass Christian Academy about the possibility of that school relocating to the Fredericktown facility, which is owned by Holy Trinity Catholic Church. Currently, BCA utilizes space at Parkway Baptist Church in Bardstown. Allegra told the board he wanted to get a decision sooner than later if there would not be a change to the future of Fredericktown Elementary in order to give the church the opportunity to fill the facility, possibly with BCA.
Allegra said BCA is a non-denominational private school, and it currently has an enrollment of 102 students.
“We can accommodate 102 students,” Allegra said. “They are going to expand at some point, maybe five or 10 years from now, and they want to buy land, build and expand. Five or 10 years is better than nothing. We’re delighted because we have so many wonderful things to offer Bluegrass Christian Academy, and some of our parishioners already have students there. I’m very excited and hopefully it will work out.”
School board members showed support for the school and the church’s opportunity to fill the facility. Board chair Patsy Lester told Allegra the board would not want to do anything that would prevent the church from taking advantage of the opportunity to welcome BCA. Other members spoke out in favor of the Fredericktown community as well.
“I think Father Chris has a wonderful opportunity he wants to pursue. Regretably, it’s consistent with what we feel we need to do,” said Pat Clements. “Congratulations on coming up with this opportunity. I’m happy for you.”
Board member Mike McCain said he wants the community to know that the board is not closing the school, and the action is simply a sign of the times.
“It’s very unfortunate, but the timing is probably right, and you’ve got this opportunity, and you need to take it,” McCain said. He added that he hoped the transition for students and families into other schools will be smooth.
Kristie Broadus is head teacher at Fredericktown Elementary. She is not a mother herself, but she considers each of the students at her school to be her babies. She said she thought the news from Monday’s meeting might not be good, but she attended with hope.
“I knew the number was 90, and I know we’re not at 90, so I knew they had to say they’re closing the Burg. But did I have hope? Sure. You always have hope. You always look for something positive, and a miracle may happen,” she said. “We did jump last year from 65 students last year up close to 80. I was hoping we would have another huge jump, but I had a feeling parents knew there was a huge chance the school was going to close. I think a lot of people went ahead and made that transition, which I understand. They have to make the decision that’s best for their child.”
Broadus said she would understand if parents made moves immediately, or even after the Christmas break, to put their children into a new school. She said she would understand that change, but she doesn’t want it to happen.
“I would understand if they did, but it’s certainly not something I want them to do,” she said. “
With the future of the school now officially determined, Broadus said she wants to make sure the transition for her students is as smooth as it can be, and she wants Central Office to be involved in helping the students adjust.
“There will have to be some way to let the parents and the children know. How I’m going to do that, I’m not sure. I want to make sure it’s done in a positive way, a good way. I don’t want them upset or scared,” Broadus said. “I want them to feel good about it, and that’s something that needs to be planned by the entire staff, and I want Mr. Stafford and Mr. Hamm involved in that, too. It is sad, but they’re going to have new opportunities, so I want them to feel as good about it as possible.”
Hamm suggested trying to get students into the other schools in the district this coming spring to help them become familiar with their new schools, and board member Nora Niece agreed with that idea, adding that it will be important to have parents involved in the transition period as well.
The effect of the school closure on staff members is not yet known, but Broadus pointed out that the district is already one/half teacher above what it needs to have. She said that can be discussed at another time.
“I’m not sure how the district is going to handle that. There are tenured teachers at the Burg, and there is classified staff that has many years of experience. I don’t know how they’re going to handle that, but I didn’t think tonight was the time to bring that up because it was about the students,” she said. “What they do is in their hands and God’s hands. I just pray that, myself included, everyone lands on their feet and the kids are taken care of. They’re the most important thing.”