By Dr. Colleen Taggerty
President, Archbishop Walsh Academy/Southern Tier Catholic School
Retired after decades as a teacher and administrator in the public school system, my move to become President at Archbishop Walsh/Southern Tier Catholic School last summer may have surprised some.
The calling to education runs deep.
The experience has been powerful, and the push to reinvigorate Walsh/STCS as a faith-based educational alternative in our communities has been challenging. Our school will be open next year. The only question is, “At what level?” That question is answered only by community commitment.
In the last few months, school leaders have been working diligently to solidify our future on many fronts. Communicating with families. Urging re-enrollment. Strategic marketing. Re-engaging alumni. Appealing to benefactors. Studying how other private schools have gone from surviving to thriving.
We’re planning a move to the former St. John’s School in North Olean for the 2023-24 school year. We’re inviting current families on this new journey and welcoming new families who are feeling disengaged with other educational options. This reset allows Walsh/STCS to continue to offer a faith-based private institution, while improving upon the delivery of our rigorous academic curriculum and advancing moral values.
For so many years, the emphasis was on recreating an idyllic past. But as appealing as that may be at a surface level, we’re not trying to prepare students for a world 10, 25 and 50 years ago. We’re trying to prepare students for a world 10, 25 and 50 years from now.
Leaving the current Walsh building on North 24th Street – the school’s home since 1959 – is a great financial move. It removes an annual six-figure burden of continually repairing aging facilities. That money will be reinvested in student programming and extracurricular activities. The move will also allow us to rejoin the local faith community with a new direct affiliation with St. John’s Parish.
Walsh/STCS has a smaller population of learners. Many of their families prize the faith-based values that are still practiced here – and not just Catholicism. Some families like our school simply because it’s private, more intimate, with smaller class sizes and individualized learning.
Our current realities can be viewed even more positively against a historical backdrop.
There once was a time when Walsh/STCS received a bulk of its operational funding from the Diocese of Buffalo. That financial support hasn’t existed in years. Then the Diocese listed the school property for sale, adding to the uncertainty.
Since 2010, dozens of Catholic schools in the Twin Tiers have closed for good. I remember this happening as a public school administrator facing similar financial constraints. Our schools contended around the same time with the loss of New York state aid funding. The key difference between our experiences then was the state was still funding public schools.
Catholic schools received nothing. The handful that remain still receive nothing. Many have had to face the devastating reality of closing and leaving sizable populations of faith-led learners without their preferred choice in education.
But not Walsh/STCS.
Despite overwhelming odds, we remain open. Despite factors beyond the school’s control, we’re still here. That begs the question: “How?”
Because our communities still value this option. Our communities still value our social responsibilities. Walsh/STCS still has hundreds of supporters of our annual fall and spring fundraisers. We have several thousand alumni who still give how they can when they can. And, of course, we’re thankful for a handful of major benefactors who still believe in a spiritual mission combined with academic rigor that yields results from the classroom to the brightest college and career pursuits.
We treasure our families. And our families remain as committed to us as we are to them.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year here, it’s that the staff of Archbishop Walsh/Southern Tier Catholic School cares now – and always has. Their commitment and dedication to our students is unyielding. We’ve just needed to find the financial freedom to keep this vision alive. With that path now open, we invite current and prospective families to join us in welcoming this new chapter: “A New Walsh/STCS, A New Future.”