By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
The Pleasant Grove area in Southeast Dallas will gain a treasure that no part of Dallas proper has added in more than 50 years when a new Catholic high school opens in August 2015.
Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep will serve students from households at or below the federal poverty line by incorporating affordability, a corporate work-study concept and rigorous academics, the school’s leadership team announced on Oct. 17 at St. Augustine Catholic School in Pleasant Grove—which will become the site of Cristo Rey Dallas.
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell announced on Oct. 16 that St. Augustine Catholic School and St. Philip the Apostle Catholic School, both of which serve pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students, will unite into a new, academy-model school that will occupy the recently renovated St. Philip campus and open in August 2015.
Cristo Rey Dallas will be the first Catholic high school in Dallas city limits to open since Bishop Lynch High School in 1963. Bishop Dunne Catholic School, the other Catholic high school in Dallas, opened in 1961. The newest of the seven current Catholic high schools in the nine-county Diocese of Dallas is John Paul II High School in Plano, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Kelby Woodard, President of Cristo Rey Dallas, said that the school plans to welcome 125 students to its inaugural freshman class in the fall and add grades in coming years.
“It was very clear that Pleasant Grove was where we have the kids that fit the bill,” Woodard said. “We don’t accept just Catholics. Catholic high schools go where the need is.”
Cristo Rey Dallas—a private, co-educational school—will become the 30th member school in the 18-year-old national network launched by Jesuit fathers in Chicago.
Woodard said he was grateful to Bishop Farrell and the Diocese of Dallas for supporting Cristo Rey Dallas, which will lease the St. Augustine Catholic School site from the diocese at a nominal cost.
“Families throughout Southeast Dallas are blessed that Cristo Rey will be expanding its promise of an affordable, faith-based, college –prep education to this community,” Bishop Farrell said. “At the same time, we are thrilled to be investing in St. Philip and St. Augustine Academy to continue to meet the specific needs of the families of Pleasant Grove.”
Woodard said that no “silver bullet” exists for overall education reform, but that Cristo Rey creates a solution for the students whom it serves.
“It is their silver bullet,” said Woodard, a graduate of Dallas Jesuit College Preparatory School who holds an MBA in International Business from the University of Dallas and has served in entrepreneurial, corporate and public service capacities. “It is their way and their pathway to prosperity, their pathway to college and beyond.”
He said that Cristo Rey students graduate from college at twice the rate of their peers not only because of the school’s academic rigor but also because of the self-confidence and persistence that the students acquire in their work settings.
Woodard said that the planned $20 million investment in the St. Augustine facilities and area will help Cristo Rey toward its goal of self-sustainability.
Cristo Rey Dallas initially will hire seven teachers and additional support staff, he said.
Corporate Work Study
Holly Hughes, Chair of the Cristo Rey Dallas Board of Directors, said that the school has commitments from 22 employers and seeks 10 more.
“We feel thrilled by the response we have had,” she said. “We need our believers in the first year. Cristo Rey is not just a transformative experience for the kids but also for the people in the companies where the students work.
“It works even to transform the cities.”
Hughes said that Cristo Rey schools meticulously prepare the students for their employment, teaching appropriate dress, deportment and accountability for the white-collar, entry-level positions they will hold in law firms, banks and other corporations.
“We realize that our future is based on the satisfaction of the employers,” she said. “These kids will work harder than they ever imagined.”
She said that most of the students entering a Cristo Rey school are about two years behind academically.
Hughes said that the students’ jobs pay for about 60 percent of their tuition, private contributions pay for 30 percent and the students’ families typically pay from about $50 to $200 a month based on individual family financial circumstances.
She said that the school eventually will require an 18,000 square-foot expansion when Cristo Rey Dallas encompasses all four grades.
Christine Roman, who will serve as Cristo Rey Dallas’ principal, said that she is delighted about the school’s launch and its dedication to putting God first. The curriculum includes four years of Religious Studies for all students.
“I come from similar circumstances to those of the students,” said Roman, who served as the principal of the Cristo Rey school in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It hits home.
“I’m excited to have our first graduating class in 2019.”
Cristo Rey Network founder Father John Foley, S.J., of Chicago said on a recent visit to Dallas that the network has more than 8,000 students nationwide.
He said that the network was born in 1995 in response to what parents said that they wanted most in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood—a college preparatory, faith-based school within their modest financial means.
That first Cristo Rey school opened in August 1996.
“It was in a place that other Catholic schools were moving away from, and we were moving in,” Father Foley said. “Our schools are an academic institution and a business.
“What a powerful educational model this was! It brings in money but infinitely more important is the academic part.”
He said that four students share one job and each works one full weekday at that job. All spend four full days in class at the school.
“What is most important is that the students’ self-esteem goes sky-high,” Father Foley said. “Our kids normally are kids for whom going to a private school never occurred to them.”
Father Foley said that a Cristo Rey school inspires its surroundings.
“It gives the whole neighborhood a leg up,” he said. “It’s such a sign of hope. There is a future, and it’s available.”
Woodard said that applications for the inaugural freshman class at Cristo Rey Dallas are available on the website www.cristoreydallas.org.