The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has announced the unification of two high schools at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year. At the end of the current school year, the operations of Bishop Donahue Memorial High School in McMechen will be merged into Central Catholic High School in Wheeling.
According to Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, Superintendent of Schools for the diocese, the decision was made after much prayer, reflection, and evaluation over a period of several years.
“In 2010, a Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education was formed to evaluate the Catholic high schools in the Northern Panhandle,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Although at that time there were serious concerns regarding the feasibility of continuing to have two high schools only five and a half miles apart, the diocese wanted to allow every opportunity to see if two schools could continue to exist. It became even clearer over the past several years that they could not. The significant resources being devoted to two high schools located in such close proximity to one another, coupled with the fact that the current freshmen class at Bishop Donahue has an enrollment of only 15 students, led the diocese to make this difficult but fiscally and academically responsible decision. This has been an especially disappointing year for enrollment at the school. The diocese recognizes that enrollment affects the educational opportunities for students. Declining population in the area and other demographic factors are significant contributing factors in the decision being made to unify the schools.”
The diocese strongly believes that those students as well as the other 55 underclass students at the school, along with the feeder parochial school students would be better served by having one unified high school at Central Catholic. This will allow resources that were being utilized to subsidize a significant net operating loss to be used to further educational programs, continue to attract and retain high quality faculty members, and to allow our schools to continue using state of the art technology.
The diocese understands that with any change of this nature, there is an adjustment period for those most closely involved. To help ease the transition, Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, has stated that he will provide a tuition stipend to every current Bishop Donahue student that transitions to Central Catholic High School for the remainder of their high school education. For the 2017-18 academic year, the stipend will be $1,750 per student, for 2018-19 it will be $1,250 per student, and for 2019-2020, it will be $1,000 per student. Furthermore, Bishop Bransfield has committed funds for school bus transportation for students to help with the transition. The location of the stops will be determined once an evaluation is conducted by the Diocese as to how many students live within particular geographic areas.
Schmidt explained that the ability of students and faculty to plan for the 2017-18 school year and beyond was a driving factor in this decision being made at this time, “We certainly want to be able to provide a memorable commencement ceremony for the final graduating class of Bishop Donahue. We will be forming a transition team that will include representatives from Bishop Donahue High School. The team will be instrumental in helping to make the process as smooth as possible for our students and parents. Additionally, opportunities for faculty members of Bishop Donahue to remain employed with schools in the Diocese will be immediately evaluated so that these individuals will be able to either transition to new positions within the Diocese or be able to obtain positions elsewhere.”
Schmidt said that an Open House will be held in the near future at Central Catholic High School that will be limited to current students and parents of Bishop Donahue. He further stated that “the unification will strengthen Catholic education in the Northern Panhandle. Our primary concern is always the well-being and education of our students. While this decision was not an easy one to make because of the history and tradition of Bishop Donahue High School, I am confident that it is in the best interests of our students and families. The diocese looks forward to offering a strong Catholic education for many years to come.”