Low enrollment closes Maui Catholic school


POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sixty-five years of Catholic elementary school education in Upcountry Maui is set to end come May.

St. Joseph School officials informed parents and students this week of plans to close their kindergarten-through-fifth grade Makawao campus at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment.

The elementary school may be used to expand neighboring St. Joseph Preschool, which is filled to capacity and has a waiting list of 97 families, said St. Joseph School Principal Beth Fobbe-Wills.

“;We just need to wait and take this slowly and see what the next phase will be in the growth of the school,”; Fobbe-Wills said in a telephone interview yesterday. “;We have to wait and see what the community wants.”;

Fobbe-Wills and St. Joseph's pastor, the Rev. Geronimo Castro, informed the 45 students and their families of the decision in a letter sent Monday.

“;It's very difficult all the way around,”; Fobbe-Wills said. “;It's hard for people who have been here and who have grown up here.

“;This is a community where there are generations of people here, not just new people ... so this is very difficult for this community.”;

Like Catholic schools elsewhere, St. Joseph has struggled with declining enrollment. Nationwide, enrollment in kindergarten through fifth grade in the 2008-09 school year was down about 18 percent from five years ago, according to a report by the National Catholic Education Association.

Fobbe-Wills said the school, with tuition of $4,600 this year, would need 40 to 50 additional students to remain viable.

The principal said she plans a forum at the school tomorrow for parents to air concerns over the closing of the elementary school operations.

She said she is hopeful the school's 10 staff members can find jobs at other Catholic schools on Maui.