Apr. 17—Registration for returning St. Mary's Central Catholic School students runs through Wednesday, but for the general public, it starts Thursday.
"We usually try to have everyone registered by May. But it just depends on the class sizes. Once we have a complete class, then we end up closing it again and we put students on the waiting list. Then we have enough students to open a second class or another class. Then we open it up depending on how many students are on the waiting list for that particular grade level," Principal Pat Salcido said.
St. Mary's has about 212 students in prekindergarten 3 through eighth grade. They expect to lose 21 eighth graders so they expect to have 191 next year, Salcido said.
"Usually our returning rate is probably about 97, 98%. Every now and then people move out of town, that kind of thing, but that's really the only time that we lose students is when people are moving out of town. But other than that we have a good return rate," Salcido added.
She noted that St. Mary's has a "good problem" because they have 55 students on the waiting list, a low teacher turnover rate and small class sizes. They try to keep the student to teacher ratio at 18-1, or lower if possible in the primary grades, with 22 being the maximum number of students in a class.
"What we've been telling people (is) basically if they're not in by fourth or fifth grade it's very difficult to come into middle school, because in middle school, we only have one class per grade grade level — sixth, seventh, and eighth. Most of the time, none of our kids really leave so it's really difficult for anyone to come in because we try to cap our classes at no more than 22," Salcido said.
As far as teachers, she said they expect to add a kindergarten teacher and possibly a fourth-grade teacher.
"... Then we'll kind of shuffle teachers around because ... looking at the numbers right now, what we have returning, we're going to lose one first grade, but gain a second grade so that teacher will go to that other grade level. So ... we'll probably add two new teachers," Salcido said.
Elaine Randolph, dean of personnel and students, said they usually have teachers seeking to work at St. Mary's. All the school's teachers are state certified.
"We don't really have to go out and find them. God leads whoever needs to be here, here. So anytime we've had like oh, we're going to need a teacher, He always seems to provide one on the doorstep for us, and they've managed to be a great fit. That's how we have about three of our rooms filled right now," Randolph said.
One thing they emphasize at St. Mary's is teaching at the school is where education and their faith come together.
"Our job is not a job, it's a vocation ... Of course, none of us do it for the pay. We're here to serve God and to serve our children," Salcido said.
St. Mary's has two religion teachers, Sister Alicia Realino, from the Order of Notre Dame, who teaches first through fifth grade, and Anna Miller, who teaches sixth through eighth grade. Realino has been at St. Mary's for 16 years. Both teachers have to have their formation certificates. They come through the Diocese of San Angelo.
Randolph said they also offer Spanish for pre-k through eighth grade
"Every student also has access to music, pre-k through eighth grade, and guitar," Randolph said.
They also have PE, library, computer lab and middle school students each have their own computer device.
Football, basketball, volleyball and a spirit squad, which is cheerleading-dance, and Student Council, also are available. Student Council plans a lot of activities for the students.
"We had a school bus donated this year by one of our parents, so we are actually able to transport our athletes and any kind of extracurricular (activities). This year we added a chess club. Right now it's only fourth and fifth. but we do plan to expand," Salcido said.
A good amount of people want to attend St. Mary's, but they don't accept everyone.
"We have really focused, of course, on our academics and teaching about our ... Catholic faith. Fr. Bernard (Getigan) is our pastor. He's very supportive of everything that we do here at St. Mary's. Of course, our biggest supporters are our parents and the Catholic community," Salcido said.
She added that St. Mary's has come a long way over the years.
"Each year ... we're getting stronger. I would say God is with us each and every day," Salcido said.
Randolph said students regularly do community service helping Catholic Charities and conducting canned food drives that benefit the Salvation Army and Mission Odessa, for example. The school also serves Hope for the Homeless twice a year at Christmastime and in May collecting personal hygiene items and clothing.
"We try to give back to the community in one way or another (with) different projects throughout the year," Randolph said.
Getigan said it's a blessing to be pastor of St. Mary's Church and St. Mary's Central Catholic School because of the presence of the children in the parish every day.
"I see life in the community and in the church through these children and it is also a blessing on my part as a priest to see the virtue of innocence, of simplicity and joy through the faces of the children. So it is really a blessing on my part and also it's a blessing for the church at the same time," Getigan said.
He added that if enrollment increases next year and they run out of classroom space, it is a good reflection of how the school is affecting the lives of the community and the parents.
"That being said, I'm really grateful to Miss Pat Salcido for being a great leader of the school. And of course, to her faithful dean of personnel and students. We really have efficient and effective teachers in our school, and that's really a blessing to the school and to children (themselves)," Getigan said.
Salcido said St. Mary's is called St. Mary's Central Catholic School because they serve all the Catholic parishes in Odessa.
"We also have students who are not Catholic," Salcido said. She estimated that there were about five.
St. Mary's also works with Holy Cross Catholic High School in Midland to send students there. They were set to take a field trip there Tuesday, April 18. Randolph said seven students out of a class of 18 went there last year.
"We work really well with (Head of School) Carolyn Gonzalez ... We have a bus that picks them up here at seven in the morning and then they transport them to Holy Cross High School. Then they dropped them off about five o'clock," Salcido said.
Randolph said it feels like St. Mary's is a slice of Heaven.
"It's like its own unique paradise. The environment's very peaceful. The leadership is phenomenal," she added.
The teachers have a servant's heart and they work really hard in the classroom, Randolph noted.
"But I think what speaks volumes to me is that we really love and get to know our children well. It is a little community. It's like a family, I would say, with our kids, with their parents. ... I just feel like I've come to Heaven when I come to work. Some people go to work, and they're like, oh, it's work. You come here and it's just like you want to be here. You want to be surrounded by the teachers, by the staff," Randolph said.
Every Monday, Getigan blesses the students and staff for the week and he visits the classrooms as well.
"Great doesn't do it justice. It's just a paradise. I feel like here, we have our challenges but we're able to work through those in a good, healthy manner. We're able to take those things to prayer and then God always finds a way I feel like, to provide what we need, when we need it, in the way we need it. His timing is always perfect for us," Randolph said.
Salcido said they had three different instances this year where their prayers were answered.
"We started like what are we going to do? They were just answered by God in the best way that we had hoped or even better," Salcido added.