Written by Martha Woodall for the Philadelphia Inquirer
When a blue ribbon commission recommended closing four Catholic high schools and dozens of parish elementaries because of declining enrollment and rising debt five years ago, few schools seemed more vulnerable than West Catholic.
The high school had been a stalwart in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for decades, but enrollment had plummeted in 2012 to 248 students. Its imposing building at 4501 Chestnut St. had once held 900 students. The situation was so dire that West Catholic was the only targeted high school where the president did not file an appeal to remain open.
Fast forward five years. The school has been reborn as West Catholic Preparatory, and it illustrates how the educational landscape in the archdiocese has been transformed.
West’s enrollment has rebounded to 410 students. Working with Drexel University, the school has added an engineering technology academy. It also has expanded arts and music programs, boosted fundraising and established its own board. And as West marks its centennial, it’s envisioning the next century.
“Now we’re at the point where the conversation is not just about fundraising and enrollment,” said Paul Colistra, who joined West Catholic’s administration in 2012 and became president in July. “Those two items always have to be present in the conversation about Catholic education, but I think for too long we allowed those two topics to dominate.”