Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Northeast Times: “A School Within the School”

Northeast Times profiles saving initiative.

A new technology program coming to Northeast Catholic High School has brought assurances that the school will remain open for another five years, and its organizers hope that the stay will be for much longer.

The school’s new program addition is to be operated by an outside non-profit organization, funded through a $1.5 million donation from an anonymous alumnus.

The program will allow students to graduate with a high school diploma as well as certifications in Microsoft and Cisco systems, and the computer training also will be opened to the larger community.

The plan to save the school came by way of some concerned alumni who didn’t want to see the school close forever.

The group was led by retired businessman John Fries, who graduated from North in 1961.

Fries said he was concerned that his alma mater was on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s short-list of schools to close. He and other alumni met with Bishop Joseph McFadden to see how they could help, Fries said.

"We wanted to know is there anything we can do, we’re alumni, we’re behind the school, is there any way we could save the school," Fries explained.

He said the bishop laid out his vision for the archdiocese and wanted to focus on three areas to create specialized study programs in the city’s Catholic schools.

One area is medical services, another is arts and advanced languages, and the third is technology.

It seemed to Fries that North would be the perfect fit for the last aim, since the school already had an abundance of computers and communications gear.

He and four other alumni formed an advisory board geared toward saving the school by creating the new technology program, he said.

"In essence it will be a school within the school," Fries said of the plan they came up with.

The program will be run by a non-profit organization they’ve created called FONECHS — Friends of Northeast Catholic High School.

Certified teachers will be brought in along with administrators, and courses will be offered in Microsoft and Cisco computer systems.

"We will educate every junior on Microsoft Office products," he said.

The courses will serve as an elective, and for those who wish to pursue the training further, there will be networking engineering classes offered to seniors, Fries said.

"For the kids that want to, they can graduate with a high school degree and can be certified in Microsoft Office products, and they can also be certified in programming from Cisco," he said.

Fries said the program also will be opened to people in North Catholic’s neighborhood. The training will be offered at a reduced rate, all in an effort to improve the surrounding community while bettering the school, he added.

North will then serve as a model for all the city’s Catholic schools, and will standardize their computer systems, he added.

"Our goal is to be the leading technology school in the Catholic archdiocese," he said.

Fries said his group is putting the program plan into action, and the archdiocese has given its blessing.

The first students to benefit from the program, he said, will be the freshman class in 2007.

With the initial donation getting the program on its feet, Fries and his colleagues are aggressively seeking other funding to support North’s new beginning.

"It’s a good story that isn’t finished yet," he said. "Now we have to implement it."

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