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Gehlen and Spalding schools explore possibility of unification

09.21.2012 | Catholic Globe | Katie Lefebvre

On Sept. 5, simultaneous public meetings were held at Gehlen Catholic School in Le Mars and Spalding Catholic School in Granville to discuss the next phase of their ongoing long-range plan, which includes exploring unification.

The Spalding and Gehlen Catholic Boards of Education invited staff, parents, alumni, benefactors and the community to the public meetings. More than 150 people attended in Le Mars and approximately 200 people attended in Granville.

In Le Mars, Father Kevin Richter, president of Gehlen Catholic School, started the presentation with an introduction and opening prayer. He introduced the current members of the Gehlen Catholic School Board.

“I welcome you this evening to this special meeting to discuss the long-range strategic plan for the Catholic schools of our area,” he said. “This very same meeting with the very same text is taking place at this time at Spalding Catholic High School in Granville. Their school board is gathered there with a representative from our board as well.”

The message was presented by Brian Kolbeck, Gehlen Catholic School Board president, during the meeting at Gehlen. The speakers at the Spalding meeting were Father Terry Roder, president of Spalding; Jeanne Jungers, Spalding School Board President; and Tom Schuch, recent Gehlen School Board President. 

“As many of you are aware, each school in the diocese has been working to develop a long-range plan (LRP). This plan is a result of several years of work and community input,” said Kolbeck. “The vision statement guiding our direction is ‘Gehlen Catholic School. Excellence in Education. Leadership through Christ.’ God has blessed our school with many strengths. In order for them to remain strong, we must have a vision and plan for the future that is responsive to the realities and needs of our students, parishes, parents, donors and communities.”

He presented data that was collected, reviewed and utilized to develop the long-range strategic plan. He pointed out that demographics of smaller communities continue to change. 

“The number of children in a family is decreasing and young families are generally moving to larger cities,” said the Gehlen School Board president. “We are working to grow enrollment through several means, as well as adding new or expanding programs such as preschool and transitional kindergarten. By attracting and retaining more students, we are striving to decrease the per pupil cost.”

He pointed out from Sheldon to Sioux City there are five Catholic schools. The average deanery in the diocese has one Catholic grade school and one K-12 Catholic high school. 

“Our deanery specifically, which consists of Lyon, Sioux, O’Brien and Plymouth counties, has one K-8 and three K-12 Catholic schools. This is a testament to the strong support that you all have for Catholic education,” said Kolbeck.

There have already been several collaborative efforts with neighboring Catholic schools. Those include fundraising and retreats with Remsen St. Mary’s (RSM); sports, staff, fundraising and other extra and co-curricular activities with Spalding; and Mission Honduras and Then Feed Just One with RSM and Spalding.

Gehlen has also collaborated with Le Mars Community on shared time classes, bussing, PSEO and preschool funding.

“Those endeavors and our LRP have brought about a natural evolution of where we are at today in working with a ready and willing partner,” said Kolbeck. “Thus, we are excited to begin the exploration process of the unification of Spalding Catholic High School with Gehlen Catholic High School. The two schools would work together, as one body, to provide a dynamic high school system under the title of Gehlen Catholic High School, which would be at its current location in Le Mars.” 

Both schools would maintain their preK-8 systems and would incorporate sharing of sports and some activities within the K-8 systems. 

“The unification process would result in representation from both schools and their respective parishes serving on the Gehlen Catholic High School Board of Education,” said Kolbeck. “The goal is to share the overall investment through the eight parishes in our communities towards Catholic high school education. This should result in a decrease in current parish investments.”

Kolbeck invited Dennis Schmit from Spalding Catholic to come forth and share a few remarks.

“I come here representing not only Spalding Catholic, but also a community that has so many ties that bind us together,” said Schmit. “Through our preliminary conversations we have been reminded of God’s handiwork through our connections and relationships between our two school communities. We are blessed to have a willing and excited partner who is committed to building upon the success of our past collaborations. We believe the time is right, based upon the long-range strategic plan, to begin discernment of this unification process.”

He acknowledged that Catholic education is a priority for both communities “and while we realize that change may be difficult at times, it can bring about new and tremendous opportunities for our parishes, students, families and communities.” 

Kolbeck said it is important to recognize Catholic education is something that is near and dear to everyone’s hearts.

“Through the work already done in our Long Range Planning and your continued support we are being proactive in making sure Catholic education remains strong for our parishes, families and communities so that our children and grandchildren may enjoy this gift,” he said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Father Richter, Kolbeck and Schmit took a few minutes to answer questions. 

“Since faith is our most prized possession and the work that lies ahead of us is extremely important, let us call upon the Lord for his guidance and wisdom,” said Father Richter, before leading the Discernment Prayer.

“This prayer will also be read at our weekend Masses.” 

Each attendee was given a copy of the message, the subcommittee structure and dates/times of the meetings as well as the timeline for this discernment process as they left. (See adjacent story for information about the plan and timeline.)

“Overall, the message has been well received and feedback has been positive,” said Father Richter. “Most people are not surprised since they seemed to believe that it was not a question ‘if’ these conversations would happen someday, but ‘when.’  Now they know the ‘when.’ Most of the questions center around specific questions about details of such a unification.  Those are precisely the questions that we would hope to explore over the next months.”

Copies of the message are also available on the school’s website – www. gehlencatholic.com – click on “Who We Are” and then the tab titled “Gehlen and Spalding Unification Process.” 

Dan Goebel, development and enrollment director at Spalding, said in Granville parents and community members asked good questions and “the overall response seemed positive.” 

“Individuals have been encouraged to direct feedback and questions to the school boards, steering committee or subcommittee chairs.  Those members are documenting the responses so the subcommittees can give them the attention they need and deserve,” mentioned Goebel.  “Our principal, Mrs. Hamerlinck, has also been spending time talking with and asking students at Spalding what thoughts and ideas they may have.”

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