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Los Angeles

Archdiocese to Close Girls High School in Compton

Education: Falling enrollment and rising costs are cited. It is the latest casualty among urban campuses largely serving minorities.

December 14, 2001|JEAN MERL and RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Queen of Angels Academy, a girls high school in Compton, will close at the end of this academic year, a victim of shrinking enrollment and rising costs, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced Thursday.

Father Albert DiUlio, president of the archdiocese's education department, said he was saddened at having to close the school, which is served by an order of African American nuns. He called the campus "a beacon in the Compton community for many years."

DiUlio promised to help the school's 110 freshmen, sophomores and juniors and its faculty and staff relocate to other Catholic campuses in the area. He said the students will be given priority status in enrolling, as well as tuition assistance and reimbursement for new uniforms and the cost of transportation to their new campuses.

Archdiocese officials said there are 3,000 seats available at 11 other Catholic high schools in the area. Those openings reflect the struggles that some of those schools in urban areas have had in recent years, leading to previous closures and consolidations.

Parents at the largely black and Latino campus in Compton were to have been told of the decision at a meeting Thursday evening, but word had been circulating for several days, creating an atmosphere of sadness and disappointment.

"The philosophy of Queen of Angels has always been to give service to the poor, and now we are taking something from a community that is already down," said religion teacher Anunciacion Anderson.

Students leaving campus Thursday afternoon, wearing their dark blue and white uniforms, wondered what they would do.

Vanessa Becerra, 16, a sophomore, said she likes the small class sizes and attention to students.

"I feel bad that I won't come here [next year]," she said. "I just started with a new group of friends, and it just felt kind of homey."

The school's low tuition--$2,975 for Catholics and $3,170 for others--has made it relatively affordable.

"A lot of my friends are mad because they don't know what school they are going to, and some can't afford the other schools," said freshman Gloria Huff.

Archdiocese officials said declining enrollment, from 267 in 1995 to the current 148, had cut into the school's ability to offer electives, honors classes, and sports and other extracurricular activities. In addition, the archdiocese's per-pupil subsidy at Queen of Angels is more than double that provided to other area campuses.

Finally, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade parish school across the street, St. Albert's, has outgrown its facilities and can use the Queen of Angels campus to house its middle-school students, officials said.

"In some ways this is a blessing and in some ways a curse," said Father Richard Hoynes, pastor at St. Albert's Church. "We certainly need the space, but I hate to take it at the cost of the high school."

Queen of Angels is the latest local casualty among urban Catholic schools serving largely minority, low-income families.

To help the families and keep schools operating, the archdiocese in 1986 launched a foundation to award scholarships and to aid urban campuses. This school year, the foundation awarded $6 million in tuition grants, said archdiocese spokesman Tod M. Tamberg.

But the program could not save every campus. In 1988, the archdiocese combined two girls high schools near downtown Los Angeles, Bishop Conaty and Our Lady of Loretto, and in 1991 it closed Pater Noster, a boys high school in working-class Glassell Park. Except for Queen of Angels, no additional closings or consolidations are anticipated, Tamberg said.

Queen of Angels itself was born out of the 1995 consolidation of two other girls high schools suffering declines in enrollment--St. Michael's and Regina Caeli, whose campus Queen of Angels occupies.

The one-story buildings on East Compton Boulevard are clustered around a gym bearing banners proclaiming past championships. The school's Good Samaritan Club makes sandwiches for the homeless and wraps Christmas presents for needy families during the holidays. The students are virtually all minorities: 57% are African Americans and 42% Latinas.

Leading its faculty are the Sisters of the Holy Family, an order of African American nuns based in New Orleans. The order has been working to have the Vatican confer sainthood on its founder, Mother Henriette Delille.

On Thursday, DiUlio praised the sisters and other staff, saying they have "provided a fine educational experience to many thousands of young women over the years, and for this the archdiocese remains eternally grateful."

For performing arts teachers Carla Drew and her sister, LaJuana Drew-Perkins, the school's closing will be wrenching. They graduated from what was then Regina Caeli in 1980 and 1981, respectively, and came back to lead the choir and other programs at Queen of Angels and Verbum Dei, a Catholic boys high school in Watts. Singers at the two schools formed a combined choir.

Preparing to lead rehearsals for what will be the choir's final Christmas concert, Drew recalled her experiences fondly.

"I came in from Compton High when I was in the 11th grade," Drew said. "I had always been pretty good in my subjects, but there was a mind-set and an intensity here that I was not used to. Everybody was working hard."

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