Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Parish-school collaboration helps students thrive in Assumption’s learning environment
Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Sonia Flores-Davis (right) is in her sixth year as principal of Spokane’s Assumption School. (IR photo)
To walk into Spokane’s Assumption School is to enter a well-organized educational and spiritual enterprise that must be counted among the most successful Catholic schools in the Diocese of Spokane.
One indicator of that success is the fact that the current enrollment in Assumption’s sixth, seventh and eighth grades, where enrollment sometimes tends to drop in Catholic elementary schools, currently stands at a total of 77 students. Enrollment in the school as a whole is 248, in grades pre-school through eighth.
Another indicator is the intangible, but clearly felt perception that something sacred and deeply human is going on in the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds at Assumption. The calm, focused spirit, punctuated regularly by quiet, joyful laughter, that characterizes the demeanor of both students and teachers is enough to make you want to do grade school all over again no matter what your age, just to be a part of what’s happening at Assumption.
Sonia Flores-Davis is into her sixth year as Assumption’s principal. She’s a happily intense person who smiles easily and communicates an aura of both competence and enthusiasm.
She moved to Spokane in the fall of 1976 to attend Gonzaga University. Her father made the U.S. Air Force his career so, she says, “I grew up all over, actually.” She met her husband at Gonzaga, they married after college, and the couple raised their children in this area. Their children attended St. John Vianney School in Spokane Valley and Gonzaga Prep in Spokane.
Flores-Davis’s teaching career began with three years at Spokane’s St. Patrick School. She left teaching to have children, then worked in public schools in Spokane’s District 101 and the Cheney public schools.
“When it became time to decide what I was going to do with my administrative credential, I decided I did want to become a principal, but I really did not want to do that in the public sector,” she said. “I wanted to go back to where my roots were in Catholic education.”
Although her husband attended Catholic schools, she did not. “When we began to have children and raise them, my experience at St. Patrick and at Gonzaga University, and his experience growing up in the L.A. area in a Catholic school, really committed us to sending our children to Catholic schools.”
Flores-Davis pinpoints the unity between school and parish as a major strong point at Assumption.
“The integration between parish and school here is intense,” she said. “We are first and foremost a ministry of the parish. There has always been a close collaboration between the two. When Father Mike (Savelesky, the pastor of Assumption) arrived (in 2001), his message was very clear. He spoke to each of us – the youth minister, the religious education director, and myself. That we are all parish, and we have a clear understanding that we are a ministry of the parish and therefore always functioning with that vision in mind. I have to say honestly that with that perspective we have grown closer in our connections and how we do things.”
The connections are reinforced with personal involvement by parish staff with the school.
“Father Mike is frequently seen in the classrooms,” said Flores-Davis. “We rely on Deacon Kelly Stewart to help us with our youth retreats and ministries. My teachers know that if they need some information on religious education that is beyond or different from our own curriculum,” they can call on the parish’s Director of Religious Education, Eurana Wood. The Religious Education staff join with the teachers to do sacramental preparation, said the principal.
“There are some very close ties,” she said. “With that comes the ways our parish community supports us, through prayer, through their presence in our activities. Four to six parish members work in the school library. One parent began working in the library, and she said, ‘You know, I have a few extra hours. Is there a classroom that might need me?’ So now she has begun working in the first grade classroom, as well.
“Our school community grows and benefits by being a part of the parish.”
The level of parent volunteerism is clearly an exciting subject for Flores-Davis. “We utilize parent volunteers for everything from fund-raising to working on crafts in the multi-purpose room. They’re in the library, they’re in the classroom, they’re on the playground. They help with safety patrol, guiding children across the street. They are so significant to our community and how we are able to carry out our ministry. Our teachers know there is always some support behind them.”
Assumption School opened in 1959 with the first five grades. Staffing was provided by the Dominican Sisters of Kettle Falls, Wash. In 1962, grades seven and eight were added. The kindergarten was added in 1980, and the pre-school opened in 1988. Finally, in the fall of 1993 the kindergarten expanded to an all-day program.
In the fall of 1987, the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades became a department, which significantly expanded learning opportunities for the students in these grades. This is one of the main reasons that enrollment in the upper grades remains high.
When departmentalization was first accomplished in 1987, the total enrollment in sixth, seventh and eighth grades was 39 students, about half what it is today.
One of the programs unique to the seventh and eighth grades is a guitar lab. The school bought over a dozen guitars, and the part-time music teacher gives guitar lessons. Students taking guitar lessons play for school liturgies and the like.
In 1997, construction was completed on an addition to the school, and the upper grades and music program were moved into the new structure. The main building now houses pre-school through fifth grade, a computer lab, a learning center, and the school library.
Assumption School has a Fair Share tuition program for students from families active in Assumption Parish. The parish provides a substantial subsidy to the school, from which financial assistance is provided to families unable to meet the challenge of paying the full annual cost of tuition: $3,535 per child, with incremental increases for additional children from the same family. Kindergarten tuition is $2,300 per child.