Nazareth High School’s final exit

Officials have decided to close 50-year-old Nazareth High School in Flatbush, citing declining enrollment and financial trouble.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Debt-straddled Nazareth High School will close at the end of June — an 11th hour decision that’s left more than 300 students and a school full of angered teachers in the lurch.

Tough economic times and a sharply declining enrollment rate led to the downfall of the 50-year-old East Flatbush Catholic institution, which is known for its 99 percent graduation rate and stellar sports programs, said the chairwoman of the school’s Board of Trustees.

“In today’s economy, many schools have had to close, it is very sad that a great school like Nazareth has to be one of them,” said Alice Hession.

Nazareth, which produced the likes of actor William Forsythe and former NBA player Stewart Granger, owes $3 million to the Diocese of Brooklyn and only enrolled 311 students this year — down from 602 in 2006, said Hession. That, combined with waning interest from alumni and corporations, made it impossible to keep the school afloat, she said.

A spokeswoman from the Diocese declined to comment, but teachers of the school accused the administration of closing the school prematurely.

“They disrespected the parents by not letting us know that the school was in financial debt and that they wanted to close it,” said Monique Fisher, a math teacher and a 1982 graduate. “It’s a minority school in a middle-to-low end neighborhood and we’re graduating 99 percent of our kids. About 96 percent go to college. This is not a failing school.”

Hession said there was simply no other option.

“We’ve tried PR campaigns and various financial aid [to boost enrollment,]” to no success, said Hession.

Heartbroken students told our sister paper, the New York Post, that Nazareth was a close-knit community with teachers who were in a class of their own.

“In other schools you don’t really find teachers that will stay after school for two hours and try to tutor you,” said sophomore Rogelio Garnes.

Senior Terence Fraser, who hopes to attend Yale, felt that Nazareth’s squeaky clean reputation should have been a deciding factor.

“We’re a good school, we don’t have any crime or anything in our school, we put kids in some of the best institutions in the country — it’s just really angering,” he said.

Nazareth, where former Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr. went to school, boasts two top-notch basketball teams: the nationally ranked Lady Kingsmen, and an undefeated boys team, the Kingsmen.

The school’s exit is part of a national decline in Catholic institutions suffering from an increasing lay leadership, a transition to a more pluralist culture, and a more diverse student population, according to Father James Heft, a professor at University of Southern California and author of “Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities.”

“If people think it isn’t worth paying extra for, they’re not going to do it,” he said.

Catholic grade and high schools enrolled more than five million students at their peak in the 1960s — a number which has dwindled to a little more than two million in recent years, said Heft.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

Nazareth students who are not graduating this year, including junior Robyn Camacho, will have to find another school for next year.
Photo by Paul Martinka

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