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Saint Andrews Hopes for a Preschool at Former Stella Maris Regional School

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Educator Toni Rozzi at the Stella Maris Regional School where the St. Andrews R.C. Church hopes to start a nursery and pre-school next year.

By Amy Patton

Just over a year after Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School — the oldest Roman-Catholic school on Long Island — closed, this week came news that many in the area may consider a bright new light for the nearly 150-year-old institution.

On Monday, an announcement from St. Andrews R.C. Church, which owns the school building on Division Street, revealed plans for both a nursery and preschool in the former nursery through eighth grade school building this coming fall season.

In June of 2011, Stella Maris Regional School was shuttered amid reports of financial mismanagement, lowered enrollment and a debt burden estimated to hover near $480,000. The situation, which unfolded in May of last year, was further compounded by a chasm which developed between parents and the local diocese as information about the school’s finances unraveled.

But now, if all goes as planned for the board of St. Andrews, students could once again be making their way through the school’s hallways as early as September. Before that can happen, however, Toni Rozzi, a former Stella Maris teacher and director of the new school, explained the educational program for three and four-year-olds would need approval and licensing from the State of New York’s Department of Children and Family Services.

“Everything looks promising for the fall,” said Rozzi on Monday. “However, we’re not positive yet, so we’re kind of waiting to see what happens so that we don’t give [parents] false hope for those who are looking for a full-day program.”

If current plans are approved for the 2012-2013 school year, Rozzi explained the nursery and Pre-K program would operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“You will be able to sign your child up for either a morning session, an afternoon session or a full day, which would be from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.,” said Rozzi.

According to Rozzi, a unique option of the program is that it will offer early drop –off starting at 8 a.m. to accommodate parents needing to get to work. While the educational component of the nursery and pre-school program would run from 8:30 to 2:30 p.m., Rozzi said that a full day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. will be an option for working parents. The formal schooling will conclude at 2:30 p.m., but structured activities like arts and crafts and sports will continue until 5 p.m.

Much of the formal schedule, added Rozzi, is still being ironed out.

Rozzi said staff hiring for the proposed school is also on hold pending the state’s nod of approval.

“We don’t want to promise teachers jobs if we don’t have a license yet,” she said.

Previously, Stella Maris’ curriculum, direction, and finances were under the control of the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center.

No more, said Rozzi.

St. Andrews Parish, of which she is a member, will be in direct supervision of the Pre-K and nursery school program, said Rozzi and will also oversee its finances and administration. Religious education, which will be delivered in a modified form due to the ages of the children, will be incorporated into the learning environment.

The size of classes and the number of children included for the upcoming fall school season will depend on interest, demand and enrollment signups, said Rozzi.

The closing of Sag Harbor’s Stella Maris Regional School last year not only shocked many families because of the swiftness with which it occurred, but also because nearly 35 teachers and administrative staff lost their jobs. The school’s students were also displaced.

Sag Harbor parent Michael Taglich, who along with his wife Claudia is an advocate of Catholic education, moved his four daughters into Our Lady of the Hamptons (OLH) in Southampton last fall after learning his family’s school was closing. His children all started out in nursery and Pre-K at Stella Maris. Taglich is a member of St. Andrew’s RC Church Finance Board.

“Historically the educational programs at Stella Maris have been very successful,” he said. “There have always been waiting lists for admissions. There was plenty of demand for the Pre-K and nursery spots. It was not just about babysitting for these children. We had teachers there who have master’s degrees teaching three and four-year-olds.”

Sister Kathryn Schlueter, the principal of OLH, said her school absorbed 59 students from Stella Maris.

“We were able to work it out,” she said. “The class sizes here are large but we do something called ‘split instruction’ where half of the kids in the class are off to music or language instruction at any given time so there’s plenty of supervision and a reasonable teacher-student ratio during the day.”

Although OLH also offers a nursery and Pre-K program, Sr. Kathryn hailed the plans for an early childhood educational program at the former Stella Maris site as a “beautiful thing for the parents, children and community of Sag Harbor.”

Michael Heller photography.