Tuesday, March 7, 2023
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
TAMARAC | An amazing team of people are collaborating to reopen a small school that was once a big part of a parish family.
“We are blessed as we announce that we are going to reopen St. Malachy Catholic School,” said Father Alfredo Rolón, pastor of St. Malachy Parish who delivered the news during Sunday Masses March 5, 2023, taking parishioners by pleasant surprise.
“It will be open as St. Malachy Catholic School as it was intended when the school was built,” said an excited Father Rolón. “It is our school. St. Malachy Catholic School sounds beautiful, doesn’t it?” he added, as the people sitting in the pews expressed their delight with applause.
This is the first reopening of a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Miami since seven of them, including St. Malachy, closed in 2009 due to the “great recession.” School officials said more reopenings may happen in the future.
Carol Blake, a parishioner for more than 30 years at the Tamarac parish, said she was happy about the announcement but in disbelief. “I am keeping my fingers crossed and praying that everything goes as planned for the opening.”
“We have a lot of families with children in our parish. It was sad when we lost the school. We are not the richest parish community,” she said about humble St. Malachy, a diverse community of hardworking, low-income families and individuals, and seniors on fixed incomes.
The school, established in 1984 as the first Catholic school in Tamarac, will reopen in August for the 2023-24 academic year after a 14-year hiatus, when two charter schools used the facilities on the parish’s 10 acres.
The Charter School of Excellence opened in 2009 and closed in 2018 making way for BridgePrep Academy, which opened but closed the summer of 2021. The buildings were left vacant and the sprawling grounds void of children.
Jim Rigg, secretary of education and superintendent of Catholic schools for the archdiocese, spoke at the Saturday vigil and Sunday Masses March 4 and 5 to explain school details.
He said the early announcements were primarily about giving families involved at St. Malachy first shot at registration, which is expected to fill quickly. He also wanted to give parishioners an opportunity to apply or get the word out about employment opportunities.
“We are looking for teachers and other employees,” he said. “When we open, we need volunteers, but most importantly we need your prayers. We need your support.”
St. Malachy School will open with pre-K4 and kindergarten programs for 45 students, adding classes and grades in the following years.
A portion of the school building is being renovated and nearing completion. Other portions of the building will be refurbished and enhanced as the school grows, according to Rigg.
At this point, the school features three classrooms and an office with fresh paint, new flooring and lighting. Furniture is on its way as are donated computers. School colors are blue and gold, and a website is up and running with school and enrollment information.
Students will have the opportunity to experience education at its best according to Rigg.
“The school will have a classical focus,” he explained. “Programming will be focused on great books of literature and philosophy, in addition to the usual Catholic school curriculum. In its first year, St. Malachy will offer Latin, chess, and violin.”
Another eye-catching feature for families is scholarship assistance. The school is accepting an array of Florida scholarships provided to families to “offset tuition costs,” said Rigg.
Other family help includes before and after school childcare at the school, and free uniforms as part of the package for inaugural year students.
“The decision to reopen St. Malachy followed a feasibility study in which we looked at local demographic trends, educational options and other factors. Through this study, we determined that a viable Catholic school could reopen at St. Malachy without operating to the detriment of nearby Catholic schools,” Rigg said.
“I have met with civic leaders and there is excitement in the city for this announcement. It is seen as good for Tamarac and that area of Broward County,” he added, pointing to the growth of the area in recent years.
The city’s website describes the town as “desirable” and “safest place to live for families.”
A glance at the 2020 U.S. Census reveals that Tamarac’s population was nearly 72,000, up more than 10,000 from 2010 census figures that showed a population of 60,427.
A VILLAGE COMES TOGETHER
Rigg said he is touched by the generosity of private donors and the efforts of the many people coming together to help make the school a reality.
Neighboring St. Bonaventure School in Davie reached out with help and guidance, local business Micro Tech Support donated time and efforts to install technology, and Risse Brothers Uniforms is providing free school attire in school colors.
Volunteers from the parish are also helping where needed and members of the Knights of Columbus St. Malachy Council 13355 are doing handy work and other odd jobs.
Zoraida Perez, director of religious education at the parish, is helping with the school opening.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” she said, citing the old saying. “This is a dream come true. This is what I wanted for the children,” said the mother of three.
St. Malachy School opened in 1984 with five grades, kindergarten through fourth. The school served children and families for 25 years before closing in the aftermath of the recession that followed the financial crisis of 2007. Total enrollment at the time was 109 students through grade eight.
RELYING ON MARY
Father Rolón confessed that the school project will be a challenge. He reminded parishioners that parish pioneers also faced challenges when the parish started from scratch in 1971, but the parish family grew and united to do the Lord’s work in the area around N.W. 61 Street and University Drive in Tamarac.
“We could face a great storm,” he said. “We must be united. In our parish we have always been devoted to the Virgin Mary. I cry out to Our Lady in the midst of the challenges. My prayer is that she always shows us the way.”
Numerous statues and images of Mary are in the church and on the parish grounds. Interestingly, when the charter schools occupied the buildings, administrators did not remove the large statue of Mary surrounded by children situated in the center of the grounds.
Father Rolón is asking everyone to pray for St. Malachy as it reopens its doors as a Catholic school.
Catholic schools in demand in Florida
As schools close in other areas of the nation, Catholic school enrollment in Florida is on the rise, according to data from the Florida Catholic Conference.
The state’s Catholic school enrollment this year was 88,031 compared to 79,623 in the 2020-2021 school year.
The Archdiocese of Miami has experienced its own high numbers. This year, the archdiocese’s 63 schools and three stand-alone preschools had 33,577 students compared to 30,866 students in the 2020-2021 academic school year.
Why the increase?
“Our schools do an excellent job,” said archdiocesan Schools Superintendent Jim Rigg, a father of children ages 14, 15, 17 and 18.
“Our schools are warm and welcoming communities, and our schools focus on values,” he said about the well-rounded education in faith, values, service and academic excellence that many parents today seek for their children.
As for new schools: Cristo Rey Miami High School, an independent Catholic school, opened in 2022; the Basilica School of St. Mary Star of the Sea, Key West, originally from preschool to eighth grade, grew into a high school, adding a ninth grade in 2022 and planning to add a 10th grade this year.