COLUMBIA — In 2010, Columbia will welcome a new high school that will provide families with another option besides public schooling. Columbia’s first Catholic high school, dubbed Regional Catholic High school for now, will give families of faith a secondary schooling option for their children after elementary school.
Columbia has a Catholic education option for elementary school, Columbia Catholic School, which accommodates children who are in kindergarten through eighth grade. However, Regional Catholic will be the first Catholic high school in Columbia.
Jane Rutter, stewardship director for the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City, said one reason Columbia has not had a Catholic high school until now is the Catholic community has concentrated on the elementary school.
"The timing for a Catholic high school was never quite right," Rutter said. "But now it is. The land was donated and all the green lights were there."
Project director and former city manager Ray Beck cites the reason for building a Catholic high school as a community need for alternatives to public schooling. He remembers in the early 1950s, there was only one Catholic parish. Now with three parishes, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sacred Heart and St. Thomas Moore Newman Center, the number of Catholic families in town has grown to 3,500.
"As the community is growing, the number of Catholic families has grown, and there have been more requests that a school be built," Beck said. "It's a really important community project."
Rutter also agrees the school will greatly benefit the community.
“We’re pumped up about it,” she said. “Studies show that Catholic education, or having alternatives to public education, benefits the whole community and will draw about $25 million into the community.”
Rutter said she thinks more education options will recruit more businesses to Columbia because the private school will be attractive to Catholics in the business field. New faculty members for MU, Columbia College and Stephens College might also be more interested in relocating if an alternative is offered.
Catholic education, she said, is value-based and is well-known for having a high rate of success with students. People who are looking to move to Columbia might consider the option of a private religious school as an added perk.
Rutter added that, historically, people of many faiths have sent their children to Catholic schools.
“Catholic schools are known for providing a good education,” she said.
However, the new Catholic high school should not be viewed as competition to Columbia's public schools but rather as a way to help relieve some of the burden of overpopulated public schools.
"Regional Catholic High School won’t compete with public education,” Rutter said. “It just provides a choice for people and helps overburdened school systems.”
Michelle Baumstark, communications coordinator for the Columbia Public School District, agrees the new high school could potentially help ease crowded public schools, but it may be too early to tell. Baumstark said families who seek private religious schools may have already enrolled their children in other schools, such as Helias High School in Jefferson City, but perhaps the option of a closer school may entice them to enroll their children in Regional Catholic High School.
Either way, Baumstark said the public school system welcomes the addition of the high school.
“We welcome the Catholic High School to come to the community. It provides another opportunity to learning. We’re all in the business of educating kids, and that’s what important,” Baumstark said.
Baumstark estimates 90 percent of Columbia public school buildings are overpopulated. Two years ago, a committee met and evaluated current enrollment, as well as the number of students the school buildings were originally intended to hold. The committee found the public school system was well over its capacity.
Currently, the high school is on track for its scheduled opening in 2010, Beck said. The City Council approved the final plan on Nov. 17, allowing the building committee to concentrate on moving forward with more detailed aspects. Right now, the committee is focusing on a schematic and development plan for the classrooms and the school itself. Fundraising is also a high priority.
Rutter said the high school has raised $5.8 million so far, in what they refer to as "Phase 1," with $4.3 million coming from the three different Catholic parishes in Columbia and $1.5 million coming from 107 different parishes throughout the diocese. The total project cost is $18.6 million, and the goal is to raise another $7.4 million to $11.4 million.
“This is a pretty strong show of support,” Rutter said, referring to the amount of money that has already been raised for the school.
Beck said he has a strong feeling the school will be able to reach its fundraising goal because the community has showed support so far.
"I haven't heard any negative comments from anyone — either from Catholics or non-Catholics," Beck said.
The project is now in the silent portion of Phase 2, and major gifts are being secured from private individuals.