“We just can’t generate the number of students we need to make it sustainable,” said Father Ron Hebert.
With enrollment being the primary source of funding to meet the school’s obligations and the student population falling short of hitting its target number again this year, the school is no longer viable, said Hebert.
“We are looking for 200 students in all. That is the number that would permit us to be able to take care of not only ongoing responsibilities with salaries, but also the upkeep of the building. It has been a number of years that we have not reached that number, and it has come to the point where we cannot be subsidizing the school anymore.”
Public school educator and parent of three Sacred Heart Academy alumni Dave Sheppard said he sent his sons to Sacred Heart not only to raise them with Catholic morals and values, but also to present them with a safe, nurturing learning environment that he felt Sacred Heart provided.
“When my oldest son was three in 1993, I called the school to enroll him for kindergarten. I was told that his kindergarten class was already full and he’d be put on a waiting list,” he said. “At the time, most people registered their children for Sacred Heart Academy at birth.”
Over the years, however, Sacred Heart’s kindergarten enrollment has dwindled to around 15 students.
“Sacred Heart is the third Catholic school to close in San Diego over the last three years. The Diocese of San Diego’s educational department has done little to stem this tide,” Sheppard said. “There seems to be little assistance to struggling schools in implementing strong instructional practices that have been developed by researchers over the past five years. They also refuse to administer the same standardized tests that public school students take.”
Despite the trend, Sheppard said some Catholic schools are, in fact, doing just fine, and he dismisses the theory that Sacred Heart failed because it had to compete with high-performing public schools in the area, like Sunset View and Silvergate elementaries.
“There are numerous Catholic schools that are viable and financially strong in areas that have high-performing public schools. All those schools have waiting lists,” he said.
Regardless of the reason for its closure, Sheppard reminisced on the school’s vibrancy in the community over the past 63 years, from watching students march down Newport Avenue on Fat Tuesday amid cheers of local shop owners to seeing Sacred Heart alumni go on to do great things for their communities.
“The students would willingly participate in community events such as the beach cleanup, food drives and having a float in the OB Christmas Parade,” he said. “The closure of the school will not only leave a hole in the Catholic community in Ocean Beach, but also in the community as a whole.”
Area Catholic schools like the nearby St. Charles Borromeo Academy in Loma Portal will open their doors to Sacred Heart’s current and prospective students next school year and Herbert assures that students are not turned away from the parish itself should they wish to take part in any of the church’s student groups.
“We have a very vibrant youth group and that will be enhanced even. We will make sure that it is available to all the students who want to partake of the youth group that has been very successful,” he said. “We’re also going to expand the Christian education program for those who are not in Catholic school.”
Hebert thanked the merchants who have been so supportive over the years, and hopes the school’s legacy of producing first class citizens is not forgotten.