Stella Maris HS Closing Doors
More than 200 parents were stunned into silence on Monday night when they were told that Stella Maris High School, which has served Rockaway's young women since 1943, is to close its doors for good at the end of this school year.
"We didn't know that it was coming," said one parent who asked not to be identified because she now has to find another paro - chial school for her daughter and fears reprisals. "The letter we got telling us to come to the meeting said that we would discuss the school environment, finances and financial problems. It said nothing about closing down. I never would have enrolled her in the first place if I had known that it would close a year later."
She added, "I thought that they would ask us for higher tuition or something. I never thought they would close the school."
A number of parents were angered that the school provided no counseling or supportive services for the girls.
"They just told them that they were closing the school and walked away," a parent said of the Sisters of St. Joseph. "The teachers tried to console them, but they had to console themselves because they were all losing their jobs. Everybody was in shock and nobody from the order was addressing that."
She, too, declined to give her name for fear that her daughter would be punished if she spoke to the media.
"They should have told us last year, and perhaps we could have done something to keep the school open," she said. "We knew that enrollment was dropping, that there was a problem. Last year, the graduating class had about 200 girls. This year's freshman class has only 50 or so. We still could have raised some money and brought in some more students. They never gave us a chance."
The parents said that a member of the board of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which sponsors the girl's school, stood and coldly told them that the school would close, that there was no chance for a reprieve.
"They told us they need $2.5 million to keep the school going and that the order has been paying for the school for the past two years and no longer had the funds to keep it open." A parent said, "There was no discussion, except for one parent who suggested that the school become coed. The answer to that was the order sponsors only girls' schools."
A group of students who were leaving the school on Tuesday afternoon were stunned.
Although most of the students already knew, Principal Geri Marti - nez, who has been at the school since 1963, called an assembly at noon to inform the students.
Many of the girls were discussing the assembly tearfully as they left the building.
"I'm really sad to see the school close," said one young girl who said she was a junior at the school. "I wanted to graduate with my friends, to go with them to the prom. Now, we're going to be scattered in schools all over the place."
"It's not the principal's fault," another girl said. "She tried her hardest, but we need 800 students and we only have 250. "This is very upsetting."
"The principal was really gracious," a parent who was at the meeting said. "She tried her hardest. A lot of people who live in Rockaway will lose their jobs and all the students will have to find a new school. It's very sad."
Repeated telephone calls to the school's principal and to the Brent - wood Long Island headquarters of the Sisters of St. Joseph for comment went unreturned.