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St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth to split into two schools

St. Joseph-St. Elizabeth School will split to form two separate schools beginning in the fall of 2014 because of growth in enrollment.

For the past 15 years, the Catholic school has operated as a joint school on two different campuses. The St. Joseph campus on Brooklyn Avenue serves students in grades five through eight; St. Elizabeth on Aboite Center Road serves students in preschool through grade four.

The joint school was supported by both St. Joseph Parish and St. Elizabeth Seton Parish.

In August, the schools will separate forming St. Joseph Catholic School, which will serve students in kindergarten through grade five, and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School, which will serve students in preschool through grade eight. St. Joseph school will begin adding middle school grades in 2015 until it serves students through grade eight as well.

“We’re just very excited about it,” said the school’s current principal, Lois Widner, who will lead St. Elizabeth when the school splits. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

The changes are the result of growth at the joint school, Widner said. She attributed the increase in students to families moving into the area southwest of the city and families transferring to the school from other districts including Southwest Allen County Schools and Fort Wayne Community Schools. Vouchers have also helped, but have not been the main factor, she said.

More students can afford the cost of tuition at private and parochial schools because of the state’s choice scholarship program, which provides a publicly funded voucher to families who meet income and other requirements.

Widner said that of the 536 students enrolled in the school, 51 use vouchers to attend.

A committee formed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades recommended the schools split, according to a news release.

The site for St. Elizabeth School will require expansion to be funded by a capital campaign at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish, Widner said. She didn’t know the cost of the expansion. A call to the parish pastor was not returned Monday.

The addition will add 10 to 11 classrooms, a media center and office space, Widner said.

The plan was announced at the end of April by Bishop Rhoades during a parent, faculty and staff meeting, according to the release.