Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Parents and other parishioners work together to keep open the doors of St. Paschal School
by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the April 8, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)
Earlier this year, the Puyallup Tribe made a contribution of $20,000 to the endowment fund for St. Paschal School. From left: Kathy Foreman, member of the school’s Future Committee; Lena Landry, Tribal Elder and member of the Tribal Charity Board; and St. Paschal principal Rick Pelkie. The contribution not only boosted the school’s bottom line; it also provided a welcome shot of morale for all those working this year to keep the school open. (IR photo from St. Paschal School, Spokane Valley)
Don’t count St. Paschal School out of the Catholic education picture just yet. Enrollment is up, with 77 students currently on the school roster. The school’s financial footing is much more stable. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of school and parish families, St. Paschal School is going to remain open.
Like the Little Engine that Could, the school faced its declining enrollment and finances with determination and grit to turn its bleak enrollment-financial picture into a more optimistic one.
While the school has weathered declines in student enrollment at various other times during its history, a precipitous drop almost two years ago put everyone on notice that serious work was needed.
Not only had school enrollment dropped, so had the number of families in the parish. The lower numbers added up to less financial support for the school, and, to make the picture even more bleak, came at a downturn in Spokane’s already tough economy.
While many people wanted the school to remain open, another group of people thought it should be closed. For a time the two groups, both very sincere, were polarized in their positions. As a result parish pastor Father Pat Hartin and Bishop William Skylstad both challenged parishioners and school parents to find common ground. Adding to the challenge was new leadership that summer in both the parish and school. Don McKenzie had been named pastoral administrator at St. Paschal; Rick Pelkie came on board as school principal.
The school was given some conditions to meet and a year to meet them. Two of the conditions were to raise enrollment and put the school on a more solid financial basis. From a low point last fall, the parish and school community began a process that eventually united both groups to their common purpose and helped them fulfill the stated conditions.
One factor given credit for the unified spirit was the school’s annual auction, held Nov. 1. Said Principal Pelkie: “It was a great community builder.”
What also helped the school was that the auction was held at Gonzaga Preparatory School, the first time at a place other than the school. The change in location meant more people could attend, and they did, from all over the area, Pelkie said. “We received a lot of support from the entire Spokane community.” The auction was one of the most successful ever.
Kelly Bundy and Tina Heintzelman typify the parents who put in the work to keep their school in operation. Bundy serves on the school viability committee, in public relations and promotion. Heintzelman is a member of the school’s future committee, more specifically school enrollment.
Both women are very committed to the school. Bundy’s youngest child graduated last year; Heintzelman has three young children in the school.
Heintzelman, who grew up in a small Idaho town, finds a school such as St. Paschal, “where everyone knows everyone,” valuable and wanted to do all she could to keep it going. Bundy said it seemed to her that to close the school was “to put to death something that wasn’t ready to die.”
Other people agreed with their assessment. Bill Trudeau’s brothers and sisters, and also his own children attended St. Paschal School, and he is glad to know school operation will continue. Joe and Patsy Angelo’s five children went to St. Paschal and they are strong school supporters. “We believe the children should be first,” Patsy Angelo said.
The Angelos have also noticed the change in spirit in their parish and school. “The atmosphere is so good now,” Patsy Angelo said. “There’s more harmony now and better unity.” She likes seeing the 10 a.m. Mass “just full, with lots of people.” She admitted she’s “one-sided,” when it comes to the school. “It’s really worth our support,” she said. The couple, who are in their 70s, aren’t as active as they used to be. However, she and her husband, Joe, helped procure donations for the auction.
Trudeau commented on the stronger unified spirit which he finds “exciting. This new direction allows everyone to get on board.”
Another bonus has been the increased interaction between school and parish. Students are reaching out to parishioners to give service however they can. And parishioners are returning the assistance. As one example, Bundy mentioned the cooky-baking project. St. Paschal Altar Society members helped students make and bag cookies for “April’s Angels,” the Gonzaga University student crew that painted the school. “This was a real shot in the arm,” Bundy said.
Even so, Pelkie knows they’re “not out of the woods. But we are open and we will be staying open.” There’s still a deficit, he said, but it’s getting smaller. The school also started an endowment fund, which currently has $43,000, according to Bundy. “It’s small now, but it will get bigger,” she said.
McKenzie is a little more guarded in his optimism. He echoes Pelkie’s thought that they are “not out of the woods yet,” recognizing that there is still much work to be done. Nevertheless he credits the “outstanding fund-raising” done by parents, parishioners and school supporters. “They’ve come a long way,” he said.
McKenzie also praised Principal Pelkie for his hard work. “There’s a new energy and enthusiasm for cooperation and collaboration” in the parish and school, he said.
Others are also generous in praise of their principal, and as a first-time principal, Pelkie greatly appreciated the support. “They really welcomed me,” he said.
More than that, though, Pelkie said he was “very gratified and blessed” at the response the school received. “The school will be open for years to come, thanks to very hard work by very dedicated people,” he said.