A tale of two cities: Success on both ‘sides of the bridges’

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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HYANNIS, Mass. — In last week’s edition, The Anchor featured the marriage of Coyle and Cassidy High School and Taunton Catholic Middle School in the Silver City that occurred at the beginning of the current school year.

Nearly 60 miles to southwest, after crossing the bridge of one’s choice — Sagamore or Bourne — lies the bustling Cape Cod village of Hyannis. There, too, a pair of schools joined forces and resources to provide the best possible Catholic education to the middle school- and high school-aged students in the area.

One year ago, this past September, Pope John Paul II High School and St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School, a stone’s throw from each other on High School Road in Hyannis experienced a unification of their own.

The merger had major differences from the Taunton joint effort, but the successes have been similar.

“Our consistent approach since the outset has been that of two excellent programs united, yet distinct,” Head of School and High School Principal Christopher Keavy told The Anchor. “As such, our first goal has been to maintain the four-year program of St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School and the four-year program of Pope John Paul II High School in full.”

Unlike the Taunton effort, neither the JPII High School nor St. Francis school buildings were in need of renovations, since both were fully functioning prior to their joining forces.

The students have remained in their respective buildings, but various doors of opportunity have been opened by the venture. “We have expanded opportunity for students in mathematics education, performing arts, athletics, and academic help,” said Keavy. “Advanced mathematics students study in honors courses at the high school. Our performing arts program has been reorganized so that Sacred music is learned jointly even while our middle school and high school choirs perform other pieces separately. High school student leaders now assist with middle school retreat programs. Informally our sports teams support one another and a real sense of unity has developed among students and parents.”

Keavy told The Anchor that this academic year seven teachers share assignments in the middle and high schools. “This has proved to energize teachers and open up sharing among staff previously separate, in easy and organic ways,” he added.

In addition to the expanding of academic and extracurricular activities, the joint venture has brought together students from both schools on an athletic level. “Middle school students are now able to participate with high school students, particularly in the sub-varsity level,” explained Keavy. “This results in increased opportunity in a dimension of life so important to students. We allow participation in sports such as swimming, sailing, and golf, for example, where there is a high school team and not a middle school team. In sports such as basketball, soccer and volleyball which are offered at the middle school level, we maintain those distinctions. This is important for school unity and proper peer relationships and social development.”

With a year already in the books, faculty, staff, and parents have expressed positive feedback about the merger. “Parents are happy to see that traditions they have come to know and love have continued,” Keavy told The Anchor. “Further, many families have students in the middle school and high school and are pleased that there are new connections.”

Keavy is proud of the way the student populations of both schools have adapted to and adopted the changes. “There’s a strong sense that our family has grown,” he said. “High school students look out for and support middle school students and middle school students take pride in the accomplishments of the high school. We’re seeing that JPII students see SFXP as their middle school and SFXP students see JPII as their high school.

“Students have adapted well and easily, which is no surprise because the unification of Pope John Paul II High School and St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School did not take anything away from two excellent schools but rather allows for more opportunities for students of both. A test of this has been a new daily schedule for both schools that we launched this fall.” Keavy added that the change “has been integrated smoothly.”

Like their Taunton counterparts, the joining of two educational entities didn’t come without hard work and dedication from the faculty, staff, students and families involved.

“Now in year two I feel more adapted and comfortable with the changes in my responsibilities,” Keavy said. “Obviously, prior to our unification, I was the high school Head of School and not directly connected to SFXP. With my new responsibilities as overall Head of School, I have come to know SFXP as I had not before. I’ve relied heavily on Beth Kelley, SFXP principal, and those teachers who share confidence in the vision of one school, united yet distinct. Former headmaster Robert Deburro worked hard to create an outstanding school, and as I have come to know SFXP, I see that this sturdy accomplishment honors his vision and hard work.” 

 The mergers in Hyannis and Taunton were different in the needs and approaches, yet the outcomes have been similarly positive. Two schools with long, storied histories “west of the bridges,” and two comparatively younger institutions “across the bridges,” have proved to all in the diocese that change for the better is a matter of cooperation, planning and hard work.

That bodes well for the future of Catholic education in the Diocese of Fall River no matter what side of the bridges one resides.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts