Courtesy Regis-St. Mary
St. Mary preschooler Addie Birkholz and Regis 10th-grader Holly Blish enjoy a book together. The students’ Stayton schools recently announced they are merging, a decision that will allow for shared staffing, curriculum alignment and unity.   

Courtesy Regis-St. Mary

St. Mary preschooler Addie Birkholz and Regis 10th-grader Holly Blish enjoy a book together. The students’ Stayton schools recently announced they are merging, a decision that will allow for shared staffing, curriculum alignment and unity.   

STAYTON — St. Mary School and Regis High School recently announced they will merge into one preschool-12 school system. The change was approved by Archbishop Alexander Sample and is effective July 1.

“Students’ experiences will be better because the schools will work more effectively and efficiently together,” said Rick Schindler, principal of both schools.

St. Mary, which opened its doors in 1929, and Regis, founded in 1963, are six blocks from each other and have long been close communities. The merger will make the bond official and tighten the relationship, Schindler said.

St. Mary will no longer be a parish school of Immaculate Conception Church, but will be joined with Regis under one school board. Together they will be a diocesan school system within the Archdiocese of Portland. The school campuses will keep their names, but a name to describe them as one entity may be created, according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on the Regis website.

Schindler has headed St. Mary for 12 years. This academic year he was named principal of Regis, taking on a dual role that anticipated the possibility of a merger.

The principal and the administrative team already are moving forward with initial transition steps.

The latest accomplishment in this transition was the completion of a five-year strategic plan, created with the help of the consulting agency Meitler, which specializes in developing long-range plans for Catholic schools. Over the past eight months, a five-year implementation plan was developed.

Schindler said he’s aware that among the many questions to come, the first will be: “How does this affect my child?” He says the change will have little effect on the students’ or parents’ day-to-day lives.

Both campuses will remain, with St. Mary continuing to serve students in preschool through eighth grade and Regis serving ninth- through 12-graders.

“We’ll exist under one school governance with two campuses,” said Schindler, adding that an independent board of directors will oversee the schools.

“The Stayton Catholic schools merging is one of the most positive developments we’ve seen in the history of our schools,” he said. “The change represents collaboration, efficiency, stronger relationships and a deep sense of community.”

The united school governance will help strengthen many of the schools’ assets, including their faith-based vision, campus ministry, academic programs and athletic programs. Other areas that will benefit include preschool-12-grade curriculum alignment, shared staffing and human resources, program coordination, fundraising efficiency, and smoother communication between the schools and the community.

“A big advantage will be high school teachers being able to know what knowledge kids are coming in with,” said Schindler. “It will also help teachers in the lower grades know what the expectations are so they can work more easily toward preparing students.”

Holy Cross Brother William Dygert, superintendent of Portland archdiocesan schools, believes the continuity in instruction will be a major benefit of the merger. “It also allows the two small schools to control economies of scale and their overhead costs,” he said.

Schindler said one of his first priorities will be to organize a joint community-service project with the two schools, giving students a chance to interact across grade levels and “live out our Christian faith in a fundamental way.”

About 60 miles north of Stayton, another Catholic academic community has experience educating students of all ages. Valley Catholic School serves children from infancy through high school in four different schools, all unified. Unlike Regis-St. Mary, Valley Catholic schools are on one campus.

Bob Weber, president of Valley Catholic, said he’s hard pressed to find a downside to a unified school and thinks Regis-St. Mary will flourish.

“The unity allows for collaboration between teachers in different grades and intergenerational connections,” he said, echoing Schindler’s hopes for Regis-St. Mary.

Weber said older students have the opportunity to set an example for the younger kids, observing them at all-school Masses and other schoolwide events. The arrangement is a gift to parents, too, who spend years in the same school community.

In a unified school, communication helps ensure success, Weber said, adding he’s confident Schindler “will do a great job.”

So far, there’s been only positive responses from Regis and St. Mary parents, and Schindler hopes the merger will attract more families. “The schools offer a dynamic, engaging, faith-filled and now seamless experience for kids,” he said.  
Schindler added that during the transition period, “prayers and support are greatly appreciated.”

“We have ambitious goals, and we’re enthusiastic about the direction in which the schools are moving.”

A “Frequently Asked Questions” page was recently published on the Regis website, under About, Regis-St. Mary Strategic Plan. Interested families should attend Regis Information Day Sunday, Jan. 29, at 1 p.m. For more information, call Principal Rick Schindler at (503)769-2159 or email [email protected]