Hipster principal revives St. Anthony’s school in Gardena

Basketball hoops now have nets

DSC0163_890x350_WebThe following comes from a January 19 story in the Daily Breeze.

….Owing mostly to the stagnant economy, enrollment at St. Anthony of Padua school in Gardena  – like so many other parochial schools across the state and nation – has suffered a slow but steady decline, shrinking from 210 just before the onset of the Great Recession to an anemic 158 this fall.

By last spring, fundraising drives were being characterized as a fight for survival. Then came the new principal, Micah Sumner, a 31-year-old whose penchant for corduroy sport coats and square-end ties lends him a certain hipster appeal.

Since his arrival in the fall, the school seems to have become unstuck in time, leaping from last century in temperament to the year 2013 in a matter of months. His arrival also seems to have loosened the purse strings of parishioners, alums and other donors.

“His leadership style is A-plus; it’s what we needed,” said Fatima Fodera, president of the school’s parent leadership committee – as well as a former student. “People feel they are being heard, and he has our back.”

Using a blend of donations and tuition money, the school this fall purchased dozens of iPads for students, as well as smartboards and document cameras for teachers. For the first time, the school has a website, on which all teachers are expected to blog daily – and on which students regularly comment. All the classrooms are outfitted with Wi-Fi.

Other recent donations are not technological in nature. They include the granite replacement on the 40-year-old drinking fountains, which were caked with grime, as well as donated equipment for a playground and the school’s first-ever soccer field. Surrounding these spaces is a $7,000 fence, erected for free by the company California Fence. Even the basketball hoops on the blacktops have been spruced up, with their once-naked rims now festooned with nets.

Still more changes are pedagogical. Just this year, the school began admitting kindergartners.

Sumner claims that his school has already implemented new national standards – called Common Core – that call for more in-depth teaching, and which must be implemented in all California public schools by 2014-15.

“Because we’re a private school, we can make changes instantly,” he said. “There’s not a bureaucracy that I have to answer to. I work directly with the pastor, and it was as simple as: `Hey, we need to do Common Core.”‘

Sumner is also trying to get the school back to its Catholic roots. Students are expected to don formal wear for Friday morning Mass, and now begin every morning with a prayer.

But is it all enough to keep the school open and thriving?

Unlike the parochial schools in the South Bay beach cities, St. Anthony draws from a client base that often struggles to pay tuition, which hovers around $4,000 a year per student. Many of its students – 85 percent of whom are Latino – come from working-class families, and it isn’t uncommon for parents to lose their jobs midyear.

Sumner claims this is the lowest private-school tuition in the South Bay, and he intends to keep it that way. But he put a stop to allowing families to stay at the school when they cannot make minimum payments.

“I have had to turn families away,” he said. “We do need a certain amount.”

Sumner says he feels their pain. Because he sends three of his four children to the school (the fourth is still too young), he can’t afford a nice car.

“I drive a 2000 Honda Civic with a big ugly dent in the back,” he said. “I drive it very happily because that’s what it’s taken to send my kids to a Catholic school.”

To read the entire story, click here.

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  1. Everyone who wants to send their children to a good Catholic School must make sacrifices for their children.

    Check out the school, and if all teachers teach according to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition”, – send a donation for poor families.

    Although not required, a “MANDATUM” for all faculty that teach religion/theology at every level of Catholic education is a good thing.

  2. Sue in soCal says:

    Common Core should be renamed according to truth in advertising as Common Failure. None of these programs get to the basics of teaching. They are all gimmicky hypes to distract parents until the next new program comes along. A true classics program works best across the board for a true education.

    • Kenneth M. Fisher says:

      From what I read here, Sumner, is only using “Common Core” as a source and is not committed to all of its failings. At least I hope that is true.

      God bless, yours in Their Hearts,
      Kenneth M. Fisher

      • In their rush towards uniformity, it looks like Common Core is mandated by most, if not all, (arch-)dioceses. They want to conform because it is the next best thing since sliced bread – not. Do they have to do it, no.

        It’s just like the Baltimore Catechism, it was (and is) a great way to teach religion. Does anyone use it? No, it’s practically heresy to even mention it in most Catholic schools (I suspect it’s because it doesn’t mention social justice programs, etc, and it will show up many of the religion teachers, too).

        Remember New Math and the damage that ivory tower program created? Common Core will stay around until the next government subsidized program comes along.

        According to the article, they reinstituted morning prayer — makes one wonder what goes on…

      • It’s actually worse…the Catholic School Standards Project – a program developed by Loyola Chicago and Boston College – links Common Core for “best practices” in teaching religion, etc. The reputation of these Jesuit schools have long gone by the wayside in teaching religion and one should look askance at anything from these schools. Their alignment with the NCEA with this project does nothing to strengthen religion in our schools but seems to be creating yet another bureaucracy for Catholic schools. What’s wrong with our Catholic schools isn’t likely to be fixed by conforming to a government program for public schools – Catholic schools were once better than that and went their own way. Now we have forgotten that our Catholicism comes first – looking at public schools and the methods they use (especially, teaching to their evaluative tests to prove their effectiveness) is not something to be emulated.
        Happy Catholic Schools Week.

  3. Maryanne Leonard says:

    It sounds terrific, but I suppose the Daily Breeze isn’t going to tell us what we care about most of all – what are they teaching these precious little Catholic children? Tuition of only $4,000/year is a bargain in comparison with the costs of running a fine school, but the tragedy is that for many families, it is still more important to buy beer, cigarettes, drugs and music than to drive a 2000 Honda with a dent in it so that their kids can go to a Catholic school. This man’s values seem solidly in the right place, and it is wonderful that the Daily Breeze has written something positive about Catholics and a man with high hopes and high standards, but can we please learn if he is teaching these kids orthodoxy with his great new teaching tools? I am confident that when those nuns taught the kids in tents, they taught well. We got a superior education sitting three students to a desk when our school finally got some buildings, as we had devoted nuns to teach us all we needed to know to get to heaven.

  4. Hmmmm, Hipster with Government mandated Common Core teaching standards for a private Catholic School. Parents in Gardena may want to read up on what and who is actually pushing this dumbed-down nationwide, stifling humanistic education agenda. This is outcome based education with a new basketball hoop netting covering the agenda. Outcome based means instilling a set of standards and training into the minds of students that have the aim of making each individual a well-trained, morals neutral, cooperative member of society.

  5. Common Core is rotting education to the core, folks. That’s no positive development in any school. It’s a good idea to update, but Common Core is degrading standards, deflecting emphasis to things that are taking the place of education itself. The lack of people who could detect the president’s true agenda with critical thinking skills is what got him elected and re-elected. Government involvement in education is a poor idea at best. Remember when you make your own value judgments regarding public education the fact that you are entrusting your children’s education to a system controlled by POLITICIANS, not parents. It’s about creating docile subjects, not thinking citizens.

  6. Abeca Christian says:

    I pray that this school gets more support and that it keeps growing in it’s Catholicity and I hope that our church will look into helping more families afford a Good private Catholic education.

  7. Mbûkû Kanyau Mbithûka says:

    home school

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