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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 10, 2010

Christ the King closes
A half-century of Catholic schooling comes to an end

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — After nearly 50 years of providing faith-based education, Christ the King School is closing its doors for good at the end of the academic year.

“It’s a sad situation; it’s a loss to our parish and to our community,” said Principal Judith Smith.

Enrollment for the school, which has a preschool program and a combined elementary and middle school, has dropped dramatically, according to Sister Jane Herb, the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Albany Diocese.  She said the economy and shifting demographics were the largest contributors to the decline.

When the school board at Christ the King realized during pre-registration this year that middle school enrollment had dropped, it approached the Albany Catholic Diocese and recommended that the middle school be cut. The diocese approved that recommendation.

During registration, however, only 29 students from kindergarten to fifth grade enrolled.

“We decided it just wasn’t feasible to provide an affordable education to those students,” said Herb. She said that, with the faltering economy, some families felt it was a better option to send children to public schools, rather than pay tuition. Christ the King’s annual tuition was $3,788 per child in 2010.

Herb also said, depending on the area, that demographics have changed, and there aren’t as many school-aged children.

There are four Catholic high schools, and 23 Catholic elementary schools, including Christ the King, in the Capital Region. Next September, there will be 21 Catholic elementary schools; the Saint Bridget School in Watervliet is also closing. Herb said the diocese is encouraging the 29 families that enrolled in Christ the King to attend another Catholic school.

Smith, who has been the school’s principal for eight years, said families were looking at St. Madeleine Sophie. That school is on Carman Road, in northern Guilderland, while Christ the King is in Westmere, in the western part of town. Other nearby Catholic schools are Saint Catherine’s, Saint Thomas, and All Saints. Many families will make the decision based on where a parent works, rather than where the family lives, Smith said.


Colleen Kelty has had four children attending Christ the King for eight years. Her oldest child started preschool on Sept. 11, 2001.

“My first memory of the school is walking into a calm, peaceful environment on that chaotic day. You never would have known what was going on in the outside world,” Kelty said. She said her original intent was to send her children to Christ the King for nursery and preschool, and then switch them into the public school system, but she fell in love with the school because of its community.

“Everyone knew you from day one. The teachers knew all of the kids inside and out,” Kelty said. Her favorite community activities included the annual Thanksgiving luncheon, the Christmas concert, and the weekly celebrations of Mass.

“Our biggest thing is not knowing if we will find anything like this again at another school. Our kids grew up here, and we were so comfortable here. We always took it for granted that they were being taken care of,” said Kelty.

Tara Cristalli’s daughters had only one year at Christ the King, but she is equally attached to the school. Cristalli and her husband moved to Guilderland from Massachusetts, and she said the school made the family feel like it really belonged to the Guilderland community.

“We love the school, and we’re heartbroken that it is closing,” Cristalli said. She said they were drawn to the school by the faith-based education, the small classes, and the experienced and personable faculty.

“It was very reassuring to a young family,” Cristalli said. She especially enjoyed the school’s celebration of holidays, and said her two daughters loved the breakfasts with Santa and the Easter Bunny, and the strawberry festival.

She also said the school’s dedication to community service impressed her, particularly this year, when students collected money for Haiti after the earthquake. She said the school presented the issue in a way that her daughter in kindergarten could relate to.

“I am just very thankful for the year we had with them, and I wish all the faculty well,” Cristalli said. Her daughters will attend St. Madeleine Sophie, All Saints, or the public school next year.

Sharing the community

“Sometimes, families don’t realize the values in a Catholic school, and our ability to offer an education in a faith-filled environment,” said Herb. She said Christ the King Church still has a healthy parish with a strong religious-education program, and the decline in student population is not related to the parish.

According to Smith, the school building will continue to be used by the preschool program for 3- and 4-year-olds, which has a strong enrollment. Nineteen staff members will lose their jobs, including Smith herself. She said she has not made a decision about where she will go next, but teachers are putting together résumés, and the diocese will make the staff members aware if there are openings in the area.

The Albany Catholic Diocese is in the midst of finalizing a strategic marketing plan, Herb said. The goal is to spread the word about the value of a Catholic education, and to provide an opportunity to examine the unique things Catholic schools can provide.

Smith said Christ the King School has a long, proud history, and is delighted with the accomplishments of its students. She said the school board is in the process of putting together a special prayer service for the end of the year.

“We’re sad,” said Smith, “but on the other hand, we’re looking at the blessing we have had of sharing the community with one another.”

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