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
Tri-Cities Prep continues its history of expansion
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the April 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
Sometimes Catholics can be the biggest dreamers, and sometimes they can be the most hard-nosed about making those dreams come true. Take Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco, one the newest Catholic high schools in the Northwest. Just a few years ago the odds against such a school ever existing were nigh onto gargantuan. Today, a modern, firmly rooted new Catholic secondary school has grown up on the rapidly developing outskirts of Pasco, Wash., and its students, faculty, administration and board are looking forward to a long, long run as a first-rate Catholic secondary school.
Nancy Roach, a teacher and volunteer at Tri-Cities Prep, was part of the original effort, in 1992, to start a Catholic school for the Tri-Cities area of Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick.
“A group was organized back then,” she explains, “under the leadership of Father Kevin Minder, from Yakima, to get a Catholic high school organized under the auspices of the Diocese of Yakima.”
Of the Tri-Cities, Richland and Kennewick are in the Yakima Diocese; Pasco, in the Spokane Diocese.
“That effort actually originated with the principal of a local Christian elementary school, Bethlehem Lutheran School, to bring together people of all Christian denominations to see if we could get a nondenominational Christian high school built,” she said. “Father Kevin and I sat on that board in ’92. It survived only about six months, and then Father Kevin and I felt like there was enough interest among the Catholics who had been invited to that initial effort to see if we could push for a Catholic high school.”
Father Minder, Roach, and several others met for about a year to discuss plans for a Catholic high school, but the Yakima Diocese could not support the effort. In early 1994, there was a resurgence of interest on the part of Roach and several others who had been inspired by various regional Jesuits, including Father Bernard Cough-lin, former president of Spokane’s Gonzaga University, the late Father Tony Lehmann, Gonzaga’s Alumni Director, Father Bill Sullivan of Seattle University, and Father Robert Spitzer, the current president of Gonzaga University.
Roach said they met with Yakima’s Bishop Francis George OMI “and asked him if he would support us as an independent, lay effort, which would impose no financial burden on the Diocese of Yakima, whatsoever. What we needed from the bishop was his approval, in writing, to launch the project – and he gave it to us. That was most encouraging. We set about pulling together people we knew, both from the original effort, plus new folks who had come to the table, to incorporate separate from either diocese, Yakima or Spokane. Bishop Skylstad, in the Spokane Diocese, at about that time, also gave us his support in writing.”
In June of 1994, the group of about 15 people incorporated.
Finally, in the fall of 1998, Tri-Cities Prep opened with classes being held in rented space at a local shopping mall for its first three months. “The school building was underway but not yet suitable for occupation,” Nancy Roach says. “We only had 20 students. We moved into the present building in November.”
Current enrollment at Tri-Cities Prep adds up to modest 94. Hopes were high that enrollment would increase faster than it has, but, says Roach, “it’s been a healthy thing that enrollment hasn’t grown as fast as we hoped it would because we’ve been able to put our roots very deep. We’ve been faced with new challenges, and we’ve survived.”
The financial condition of Tri-Cities Prep is quite good. “On Jan. 29, we celebrated our second annual Celebrate the Arts Night,” she said. “That evening, we burned the mortgage. We were able to do that because we sold three acres of our frontage property that had appreciated tremendously.”
Eventually, Tri-Cities Prep would like to have an enrollment of 400-500 students. Currently, the school has 13 full- and part-time faculty, mostly part-time. The school has a full-time principal, Steve Porter. A teacher doubles as the administrator in charge of discipline, and the academic coordinator is also the head of the Science department. Roach teaches freshman English and junior Religion part-time and serves as the volunteer campus minister full-time.
The school’s sports program is thriving. In fact, the basketball team, the Tri-Cities Prep Jaguars, won the league championship last fall. The school has a beautiful new activities center which includes a gymnasium.
Roach beams when she talks about Tri-Cities Prep. “The spirit of the school is just really, really strong, and I think that’s evidenced by the fact that we have enough applications right now for the incoming freshman class to start with two classrooms.”
Steve Porter, the current principal of Tri-Cities Prep, emphasizes that great credit is due to the founding principal/president of Tri-Cities Prep, Jesuit Father Tom Bunnell, who has since returned to parish work at Pasco’s St. Patrick Parish. “He took care of both jobs for the first five years of the school’s existence,” Porter says.
“What I sensed last year was that the perception, locally, is that Tri-Cities Prep really is an option, not a competitor amongst the public schools,” he said. “The public schools in the Tri-Cities are very strong and very well respected. I came out of that system. I was seven years at Pasco High and 23 at Richland High. A lot of the feedback from the Chamber of Commerce is that having a Catholic high school as an option has become an improvement in the quality of life in the Tri-Cities.”
Kids come to Tri-Cities Prep, Porter explains, not just for the high academic standards but for what the public schools can’t offer: religious education and spiritual direction. And now, “It’s all about expansion,” Porter says with enthusiasm. “We added 35 kids this year: 28 freshmen and seven upperclassmen. And we have 41 applications for the freshman class next year, which doesn’t include the six, or eight, or 10 upperclassmen that are going to come our way.”
As with many Catholic schools, Tri-Cities Prep goes out of its way to make enrollment possible for any family. “We’re very proud of that,” Porter said. “The board has made a statement that if it’s a good fit for your son and/or daughter, and it’s a good fit for Tri-Cities Prep, then finances will not stand in the way. That’s a very idealistic picture because obviously we have to pay the bills. But that being said, about 60 percent of our kids get financial aid in some fashion. Some are almost paying full tuition along with the other 40 percent who do pay full tuition. Some are at the other end, and we’re making it possible for them to come to this school. That’s a core philosophy that we have here.”
Porter believes that a true story is one of the best illustrations for what Tri-Cities Prep is all about. “One of our incoming freshman last August,” he says, “a daughter of immigrants who don’t speak English, who is getting financial aid, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Mr. Potter, I am going to college. I will make it.’ I looked at what I saw in her eyes – and the eyes are the windows to the soul – and I knew that she meant it. She is working so hard, because she knows where she wants to go. That kind of thing makes us feel good about being here.”