With the clock running down in what has been announced as Queen of Peace High School’s last year ever, a last-minute solution may possibly be coming from no further than next door.
St. Laurence High School, Peace’s “brother” school located immediately west at 5556 W. 77th St. in Burbank, is quietly surveying thousands of its alumni and presenting four options relating to possible responses to Queen of Peace’s predicament:
• Remain an all-boys school.
• Assist current Queen of Peace students, bringing in only current freshmen, sophomores and juniors from Queen of Peace, so that they can finish high school and graduate together. The girls would take their own classes, separate from the boys but in the St. Laurence building.
• Implement a “hybrid” model that would bring in current freshmen, sophomores and juniors from Queen of Peace, who would finish their classes separately from boys in those grades; and at the same time begin a transition toward becoming a fully co-ed school with next year's freshmen class (which could include girls who tested at Queen of Peace this year and are still interested in attending St. Laurence).
• Simply go co-ed, starting in the fall of this year.
In its email to alumni — as well as others in the St. Laurence and Queen of Peace community -- St. Laurence High School President Joseph Martinez, himself a 1999 graduate, said the four options — not the only ones possible -- were put together after top-level discussions with Queen of Peace administrators.
Queen of Peace officials declined to comment on the survey this week, and Martinez offered a general statement that said, in part, “Result and response numbers are only being shared with our Board members right now, who will decide how information will be shared. The results of the survey will be a part of the Board's decision. Our timeline is fluid - we want to do it in a timely manner to respect families from Queen of Peace, but we also need to give everyone's input proper consideration."
“This is a delicate dance, and neither side wants to step on the other’s toes,” said one source who asked to remain unnamed. “The whole future of Queen of Peace will hinge on decisions made in the next couple of weeks. This is a sensitive time, a tense time, a make-it-or-break-it time.”
Graduates of both schools, as well as mothers, fathers and even grandparents showed no such shyness about getting out on the dance floor, so to speak, as they registered their opinions on Facebook and other social media sites—as well as at local gathering spots.
“As depressing as [the news of Peace’s shutdown] has been, for us to suddenly see a ray of hope coming from St. Laurence is like the clouds clearing and the sun shining through,” said Chicago resident Michelle Garcia, an aunt of a currently enrolled Peace girl. “My niece loves her school and is dreading going anywhere else. It’s a very stressful situation that we’re hoping St. Laurence erases with a simple decision.”
Burbank resident Steve Fernandez, like many in the community, pointed to Marist High School, 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago, as a model of how a Catholic high school can successfully transition from all-boys to co-educational. Marist made the change about 15 years ago and by all accounts has grown into a robust, financially stable high school.
“Makes perfect sense to me,” he said over coffee at Mabenka Restaurant in Burbank. “If the Marist Brothers can open their doors to girls, the Christian Brothers [at St. Laurence] can do the same. It’s just a matter of will, I think.”
St. Laurence alumnus Jeff Brzinskas, who grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side and today lives in Arizona, said he has been monitoring the situation from afar and shakes his head over the discussion.
“Maybe I grew up in another time, but this seems like such a no-brainer to me,” he said. “Your sister school is in danger, you have the ability to step in and help — so why are we even having this conversation? I think the response from St. Laurence should be an immediate ‘Yes’ to wipe away the stress from Peace girls and their parents. Figure out the details in the weeks ahead.
“In the Viking fight song, we sing about upholding the honor of the black and gold,” he added. “Here is a chance of a lifetime for St. Laurence to put those words into action, a time to shine.”
While Queen of Peace has faltered financially, St. Laurence has reversed years of decline and today shows a healthy fiscal outlook and a multi-year, upward trend in enrollment.
To a limited degree, the schools have conducted co-educational activities over the years, most notably the inclusion of Peace girls in the St. Laurence band and rebranding it with Queen of Peace’s name.