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Parents back Catholic high school

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A family with a sixth-grade child in a local parochial school is interested in sending the boy to a new Catholic high school that could be built in Johnson County.

First, Dave and Shannan Watt, parish members at SS. Francis & Clare Catholic Church in the Center Grove area, want to know where the high school will be built and what the tuition charge will be. They also want a look at the courses that would be offered.

Many parents in the area work in Indianapolis, so a school in Johnson County would be more feasible than possible locations in Bloomington or Columbus, Shannan Watt said.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is studying whether a new Catholic high school should be built south of Indianapolis, and, if so, where. Forums were conducted this week in Franklin, Center Grove, Bloomington and Columbus to gauge interest and gather feedback.

Parents sending their children to such a school will understand high academic quality comes with a cost but will still want every effort made to keep the school as affordable as possible, Dave Watt said. He and his wife were among about 75 people who attended the meeting at SS. Francis & Clare this week.

“You want to allow people of all incomes to have the opportunity for a Catholic education,” he said. “We want the continuance of the faith.”

Data gathered at the meetings, along with results of a survey to be taken in October, will assist Archdiocese staff in making a recommendation to the Archbishop on whether to start a new school. No timeline for that decision has been given.

Potential locations were a centerpiece of the conversation. At the Franklin meeting, Trafalgar resident Sarah Page touched on the challenge the archdiocese would face in making such a decision, motioning to another attendee when asked what she thought would be the ideal location.

“For me, in my back yard,” she said. “For her, in her back yard.”

The SS. Francis & Clare property, Columbus, Bloomington and along Whiteland Road between State Road 37 and Interstate 65 have been mentioned as possible locations.

Proximity to workplaces and homes was a recurring theme as families were asked to give their preferences.

“I go south to work. My husband goes north to work. So it has to be somewhere in that area, between Columbus and Indy,” Whiteland resident Megan Henry said after the Franklin meeting.

Franklin resident Jennifer Vinters agreed that convenience of schedule and work travel would be important factors in her family’s decision of whether to enroll children in a new high school.

“I work in downtown Indianapolis, so I literally drive by Roncalli,” she said. “We wouldn’t go 30 miles out of our way. That’s why I’m not sure the Bloomington option would be so great for us.”

Visitors talked about their closest current options for a Catholic high school, which for most meant Roncalli High School on the southside of Indianapolis. Erwin and Pamela Salazar of Franklin have had two children graduate from Roncalli, two currently enrolled there and three younger students at St. Rose of Lima in Franklin.

As with all of the 11 people attending the Franklin meeting, both said they liked the idea of a new school beginning locally but were divided on the subject of timing and location.

“It would be a boon to our community in Franklin,” Erwin Salazar said. “I think we’re at a point where two high schools are not out of the question.”

Pamela Salazar said she is unsure if a new school in the area is sustainable.

“Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have a school here,” she said. “I just don’t think we could sustain it this close to Roncalli.”

While officials repeatedly said that the discussions are preliminary, a concept document showed families what such a school might look like in terms of location, cost and philosophy.

The vision is for a school with a Catholic identity, broad curriculum and academic offerings. The suggested tuition is in the range of $10,000 per student, with multi-student discounts.

“This is simply phase one of the process,” Archdiocese Superintendent of Schools Gina Fleming said at the Franklin meeting. “Hopefully this will help us arrive at some recommendations for the archbishop. Depending on that, there could be two more phases that would get into more specifics.”

Parents on hand at the Center Grove area meeting expressed agreement with the proposed academics, including early college programming and vocational training.

A challenge for any startup school will be to provide a quality education from the beginning, Dave Watt said.

“You still have to take some baby steps, but you want to attract students, faculty, resources right away,” he said.

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