The story could have turned out much differently than it did at Iona Grammar School in New Rochelle. Its prospects for continued operation were tenuous until recently.
The school, which had been operated by the Congregation of Christian Brothers since opening in 1954, had a couple of strikes against it. One was the fact that the religious congregation had entered into bankruptcy proceedings, leaving it unable to provide additional funds to a school plant that needed some updating and maintenance. The second was that its stand-alone enrollment wasn’t sufficient to generate enough income to bring about those changes.
But Iona Grammar did not become another one of the Catholic school closings that have taken place in the archdiocese, and across the nation, in recent years.
No, this school was saved. It was fortunate because it had a “big brother” in Iona Preparatory School, located about half a mile away from its Stratton Road campus.
The schools shared a common history, with the Christian Brothers staffing both boys’ schools. In fact, they were part of the same grade 1 to 12 school at various locations on North Avenue in New Rochelle until the grammar school was founded. Iona Prep moved to its current location on Wilmot Road in 1968.
When Iona Grammar was marketed for sale as part of the order’s bankruptcy proceedings, Iona Prep emerged as the winning bidder. The formal purchase was finalized last fall, and the state Board of Regents sent formal acknowledgment of the single school corporation under the Iona Prep name in recent weeks, said Brother Thomas Leto, C.F.C., the school president.
When we spoke recently, Brother Leto said the “primary reason” Iona Prep had “entered into the process was to preserve the mission of Iona Grammar School.”
In recent months, it has gone a long way toward doing just that. Now under the Iona Prep banner are an Upper School with 786 high school boys as well as a Lower School of 185 students from kindergarten to grade 8.
The Lower School benefited from numerous summer upgrades including a renovated gymnasium with new flooring as well as a new science lab and a freshly paved roadway on school property.
“We spent over $500,000 in refurbishing the school,” Brother Leto said. “We did that because it was needed, and at the same time we were able to upgrade the facility.”
“The place looks phenomenal,” he added.
The Lower School now has two Christian Brothers on the full-time teaching staff for the first time in a number of years. Even Brother Leto has gotten into the classroom, teaching a first-period algebra course to eighth-graders. He uses a motorized scooter to make his way between the two Iona Prep campuses.
In addition, a full-time Spanish teacher is serving all Lower School grades.
There are also advantages to having two campuses under one financial roof, so to speak. Just as there is now one president, there is also one advancement office and a consolidated finance system, Brother Leto said.
“Through economies of scale, we have a little more purchasing power than the grammar school had,” the president explained. “They benefit from joining a larger school.”
Maureen Kiers is the principal of the Upper School. Joseph Blanco is principal of the Lower School.
Having the Upper and Lower schools working together should strengthen both, Brother Leto said. The president is hoping the enrollment of the Lower School eventually rises to between 200 and 220 students. He also is seeking to “rekindle that strong bond between the two campuses” so that when a boy enrolls at Iona for kindergarten, “he’ll stay with us through high school.”
With the centennial of Iona Prep just around the corner in 2016, it looks like the school’s two branches will be able to celebrate together. And that’s saying something.