San Xavier Mission School closes due to low enrollment, lack of staff
The San Xavier Mission School shut down August 12 due to low enrollment and lack of staffing.
While families had gone through their back-to-school rituals, and the children were ready to go to class, the school, next to the San Xavier del Bac Mission on the Tohono O'odham Nation south of Tucson, was already missing key staff members, a kindergarten teacher and a school principal.
Without the teachers and student numbers they needed to have a successful school year, the private Catholic school decided to "suspend operations."
"The staff joins everyone else in being sad about it. It's not something that was planned, so the initial reality of it made people sad but at the same time, they realize why it had to be done," said Sheri Dahl, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
Over the last five years, the San Xavier Mission School has witnessed a drop of enrollment by 50 percent. The school had planned to serve 45 students this year, but the lack of a kindergarten teacher meant that there would be even fewer in classes if it were to remain open. Such low enrollment meant the school's budget couldn't be supported, Dahl said.
While they don't have a full account of which schools all of the students will be attending, Dahl said they'd have the option to be placed in another of the schools under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.
"The families that we know of that have been placed so far, close to 90 percent, have gone to one of our Catholic schools," Dahl said.
Dahl said the school is planning to do some remodeling and reorganizing before they reopen in the future. However, there isn't a set plan yet, as they are focusing on getting the children placed, Dahl said.
"Opening next semester is not a possibility and it's not probable even the following year just because it's going to take time to do all the renovations and reorganizations that are necessary. The focus is not going to be adhering to a particular time frame, it's going to be making sure everything is done correctly," Dahl said. "It's going to be a community effort."
Although closing the school for the time being wasn't in the plans or desired, Dahl expressed they'll be working to better the school for the long run.
"You know, nobody is wanting to be doing this process," Dahl said. "The blessing that is coming out of it is number one, yes, the families and everybody involved is sad but at the same time, I'm grateful for the people involved because it had been a calm, peaceful transition because I think people understand."
Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.