New Catholic school defies national trend

SNOHOMISH – As urban Catholic schools across the nation fight to survive, St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Snohomish will open one next fall.

The Catholic school – the first in eastern Snohomish County and the first new one in the county since 1988 – is a symbol of new life being found in suburban regions.

St. Michael’s school will begin by enrolling as many as 60 preschoolers and kindergartners, with plans to add more grades in subsequent years.

Students are expected to come from Snohomish as well as Lake Stevens, Granite Falls and Monroe.

Classrooms have existed at the church site since it was built in 1964. But the church and its neighbors in surrounding communities haven’t been able to support a school until now.

“It has been a dream of parishioners for many years,” said the Rev. Jay DeFolco, priest of St. Michael’s parish.

Plans formally got under way five years ago with a study of whether it would be feasible to support a parish school. The church this past fall completed an $800,000 capital campaign to renovate the church and school buildings, solidifying its intent.

If the school were to grow beyond the sixth grade, the church also would look at raising money to add more classrooms.

“This is really a first of many phases,” DeFolco said.

While Catholic schools in other parts of the nation struggle to stay afloat, enrollment in Western Washington is swelling as the population grows.

Catholic school enrollment nationwide declined 10 percent from 1995 to 2005, from 2.6 million to 2.3 million, according to figures from the National Catholic Education Association in Washington, D.C.

The schools in the eastern states and Great Lakes region have seen the largest drops in enrollment, while numbers for the western U.S. have remained relatively steady. Catholic schools in the West made up 19 percent of all such schools in 2005, up from 17 percent a decade earlier.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Archdiocese has seen three new schools open in the last decade and has plans for two more in the Vancouver and Olympia areas, DeFolco said.

In Snohomish County, Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy High School was the last new Catholic school to open, in 1988, first known as Holy Cross.

St. Michael’s becomes the archdiocese’s 71st school and the seventh Catholic school in Snohomish County. The six other local schools are in Everett (three schools), Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds.

Enrollment among the six existing schools has remained relatively steady in the last five years, at just over 2,000 students, according to figures kept by the state superintendent’s office.

Only more growth is on the way, DeFolco said.

St. Michael’s expects to see church membership nearly double in the next decade to more than 1,300 families.

Neighboring Holy Cross parish – which is building a church near Lake Stevens – currently has 270 families and expects to triple in size.

Holy Cross plans include the possibility of opening a school there in future years. DeFolco, who also oversees that parish, said the new St. Michael’s school doesn’t close the door on that option.

“The numbers are all showing that there will be a growing need for a Catholic school in the future,” he said.

At the same time, DeFolco said, he also doesn’t expect to draw families away from nearby Catholic schools in Everett.

“The reality is that those families who have children present there will probably continue until their children graduate. It’s a gradual process. It’s not like we’re offering a K-8 school right away,” he said.

St. Michael’s Catholic School would serve families from its home parish as well as Holy Cross and St. Mary of the Valley in Monroe.

It also hopes to draw non-Catholics.

Suzanne Siekawitch, incoming principal of St. Michael’s School, comes to the school from the Edmonds School District, where she’s currently working on a program for at-risk high-schoolers.

The parish will take applications for preschool and kindergarten enrollment through March 15. Call 360-568-0821.

Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or

Address: 1512 Pine Ave., Snohomish

Web site:

  • Opens in fall 2007 with preschool and kindergarten.

  • Three classrooms: Preschool (3-year-olds), two days a week; pre-kindergarten (4-year-olds), three days a week; kindergarten, five days a week

  • Tuition is $1,300, $1,600, and $3,985.

  • First-year enrollment is capped at 60 students, 20 per class.

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