By Lydia Randall
On the day of a self-imposed deadline, Hales Franciscan High School –a South Side mainstay for over 50 years — has had an 11th hour miracle. A generous donation to the school means that students will be returning in the Fall.
The school is still short of the $300,000 it says it needs to continue in 2016, but Friday’s commitment has secured the school’s future for the next six months.
“We received a letter from the board indicating that we will remain open,” said Nichole Jackson, the school’s principal. “We do not have the $300,000, but we received some very favorable commitments so we’re very confident that we now have more time to raise additional money.”
Hales Franciscan is a historically African-American school located at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave. A not-for-profit, independent Catholic school, it opened in 1962 as an all-male institution. In 2013 Hales Franciscan became co-ed, and now serves about students from grades nine through 12.
The school’s financial trouble is the result of declining enrollment, and a decrease in funding support from donors. Fewer than 100 students are currently enrolled.
Friday’s donation bought the school time to continue fundraising, so that the school can keep its doors open through 2016.
There was optimism among the Hales Franciscan alumni community at a fundraising gala last week.
“Hales is not going to close,” said Jerome Palmer Barney, a Hales Franciscan alumnus and the alumni gala’s master of ceremonies.
“We’ve got 4,000 alumni. They’re awakened now. This ‘Hales is gonna close’ has awakened them, the energy has started now,” Barney said.
At the gala, Hales Franciscan school board members announced their vision to keep Hales Franciscan students in school.
School officials and board members will reach out to alumni and friends of the school to sponsor new students with $3,000 scholarships. Big Shoulders Fund, which provides support to Catholic schools in inner-city Chicago, would match these scholarships by $1,000 to $3,000, thereby reducing the amount each new student will pay. The school is hoping to give 25 scholarships.
School tuition is $7,500 a year, lower than the average tuition for Catholic schools across the country. Jackson said raising tuition is not an option.
“It’s not on the table because most of our families aren’t able to afford the $7,500 so it would not benefit them to increase the tuition at all,” Jackson said.
Some think the school’s closing would be a devastating blow for the extensive alumni network, but would impact no one more than current students.
“It would actually mean the world to me if Hales stayed open because I couldn’t imagine going to any other high school,” said Nasir Phillips, a freshman at the school who attended the gala. “I actually feel safe there and I’m happy when I wake up that I have a school to go to that I can actually maybe be something, become something from.”
Phillips felt encouraged after attending the gala.
“It’s good to see that people are out there rooting for our school,” he said.
That support was evidenced by Friday’s donation.
“I am extremely excited, you can probably hear it in my voice!” said Jackson after hearing news of the donation. “I’m very happy and confident that, now we have more time, we will be able to raise the funds that are needed.”
The school has set up a gofundme page to aid their fundraising efforts. It can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/HalesFranciscan.