An all-girls Hendricken is not in the school’s future, at least for now.
After nearly two years of consideration and a $20,000 feasibility study, Bishop Thomas Tobin has ruled out the proposal for a separate all-girls campus, which would most likely have been at the former Our Lady of Providence Seminary on Warwick Neck.
“I thought we had a good proposal. The Bishop had reasons for saying ‘no,’” said John Jackson, president of Bishop Hendricken High School.
As envisioned, the girls’ school would have started with about 100 freshmen and 50 sophomores. Jackson’s hope was to have the school up and running by the fall of 2017. The school would have operated in conjunction with the all-boys school, with the girls participating in certain programs such as chorus and drama productions.
“Most exciting, there would have been single-sex education at both places and joint extracurricular activities,” Jackson said.
The feasibility study found high acceptability and trust in the “Hendricken brand.” Recognition extended beyond Rhode Island and into Connecticut and Massachusetts, and while the school age population is declining across the state and some independent schools are struggling, Jackson was confident of building a school with 500 girls from grades nine through 12 in about five years.
“They would have come from all over,” he said with confidence. “They want to come here and spend $14,000. That tells us how strong the brand is.”
There’s more than a study to Jackson’s conclusion. He has watched the school’s introduction of eighth grade take off. The program – Eighth Grade SELECT Honors Institute – has 23 students this year. Next year it will have an enrollment of 37, with 27 of the total coming from public schools. Jackson sees an all-girls school likewise drawing from public schools. He acknowledged the school would have also pulled students from other Catholic-based schools.
“With Bay View [Academy] and Prout struggling as they are, this would have provided alternatives,” he said. He thought the school would have also taken some students from LaSalle Academy and St. Raphael Academy.
Jackson said Hendricken, the only all-boys high school in the state, has discussed the inclusion of girls for a long time. At this point, he said, incorporating girls at the existing campus would be impossible because of space limitations.
“We thought of it as a natural fit,” Jackson said of an independent campus. “We have been talking about girls for a long time and we thought it might happen.”
The possibility of using the former Our Lady of Providence Seminary at the Aldrich Mansion opened up when Overbrook Academy, now in Greenville, left the mansion property a year ago. Incorporating girls at the existing campus was never in the cards.
“Enrollment is so strong we couldn’t do it in this facility,” Jackson said. “We still have 920 boys, we just don’t have the room.”
A statement issued by the diocese reads: “It was decided that given the following factors including the declining demographic of school age children in the state, other Catholic high schools struggling with enrollment and whether there would be enough girls to open and sustain continuous annual admissions, that the proposed girls school would not move forward at this time.”
Tobin also rejected a plan several years ago to transition nearby St. Kevin School with pre-K to eighth grade students into a middle school run by Hendricken. The plan was advanced at a time when Warwick’s parochial schools – St. Kevin, St. Rose and St. Peter – were experiencing declining enrollment even with the closure of St. Francis. The fear was that a new middle school would further weaken the parish schools, drawing out sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
Warwick parish schools have since rebounded, showing some of the strongest enrollment in the diocese. Hendricken’s success has given the school a unique and enviable status. It hasn’t always been that way.
In the early 1970s, when the diocese was prepared to close the school, parents rallied to save it. The Christian Brothers assumed the school’s operation.
Hendricken soon became known as an athletic powerhouse. Jackson says that has changed, although the school remains formidable on the athletic field.
“The arts and technology wing made a complete school,” he said.
“They would come and discover art,” Jackson said of students who attended the school prior to the addition. “Now they come because of the arts.”