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Success of Innovative Urban Catholic School Sparks Major Investment

$18.9 million grant to replicate Cristo Rey model, expand options for disadvantaged youth

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jeff Thielman
Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation
Phone: 617.244.8512 (business)
781.956.3589 (mobile)

CHICAGO –- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation today announced plans to grant $18.9 million to create 12 new small college-preparatory high schools across the country. The new schools will be modeled after the highly successful Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of Chicago, which serves low-income and minority youth using a proven formula of rigorous coursework, an innovative work-study program and high expectations for all students. 

The combined investment will strengthen and expand a network of schools modeled after Cristo Rey and enable high-quality Catholic education to remain a viable option for young people living in some of America’s poorest communities. To ensure that Cristo Rey is affordable, the school offers a unique work-study program in which students finance most of their education by sharing entry-level clerical jobs at local businesses. The proceeds subsidize three-quarters of the cost, making the school an affordable option for most families.  

 “Cristo Rey Jesuit High School has given birth to an entire network of new and emerging schools that focus on meeting the needs of young people in underserved communities,” said John P. Foley, S.J., president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. “The magnitude of the investment in the network is gratifying to all of us here in Chicago as more and more young people will reap the benefits of this tremendous educational model."

With an average of 400 students, Cristo Rey schools share the characteristics of strong small high schools that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded across the nation. These schools offer a rigorous curriculum that prepares all students for college. The small setting enables individualized instruction and a personalized culture with a climate of respect and responsibility.

Since its establishment in 2000, the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation has helped launch four new Cristo Rey model schools and has financed several feasibility studies for future schools. "We are excited to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” said B.J. Cassin, chairman and president of the Cassin Educational Initiative. “The Cristo Rey model is an amazingly effective way to make high-quality education available to economically disadvantaged young people."

In a 2002 study, the Manhattan Institute found that only 55 percent of all African-American and Hispanic students graduate from high school. In today’s demanding economy, dropping out of high school often leads to a life of struggle and poverty. The U.S. Census Bureau has found that students who drop out of high school often cannot support themselves and are three times more likely than graduates to cycle in and out of poverty.

“We have a responsibility to provide high-quality educational options for all our youth,” said Tom Vander Ark, director of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “All students should be able to choose from an array of small, focused high schools designed to give them a solid, personalized education and the promise of a bright future. Successful models like Cristo Rey Jesuit High School should be a part of the national discussion and local solution.”

Parochial schools have long played a critical role in creating high-quality educational options for inner-city youth, offering students a narrow rigorous curriculum that prepares them for college. Over the last five years, Cristo Rey has achieved graduation rates of more than 85 percent, in contrast to the Manhattan Institute findings. In 2002, 100 percent of its graduating class was accepted into college.

Despite their long and successful track records, many Catholic schools have suffered due to financial pressures. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, more than 500 Catholic high schools have closed over the last decade, many in America’s poorest communities. This trend has contributed to the reduction in viable educational options for disadvantaged students and the elimination of low-cost faith-based options. 

Founded in 1996, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School was specifically designed to enhance the financial viability of inner-city Catholic high schools. The school serves a Chicago neighborhood where less than two-thirds of young people graduate from high school and most families qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program.

Jessica Quijano, whose parents emigrated from Mexico, is one such student. Now a senior, she chose to attend Cristo Rey because it offered a safe and affordable alternative to the large local high school. As part of the Corporate Internship Program, Jessica worked her first year at the Chicago Board of Trade and for three years at ABN AMRO. Upon graduation, she will be the first person in her family to have a high school diploma and the first to go to college. Jessica plans to pursue a degree in international business and has been accepted to several highly regarded private colleges in the Midwest.

“We have been consistently impressed with the caliber of students working in our office and the success of Cristo Rey,” said Timothy P. Sullivan, a managing director at Madison Dearborn Partners and participant in the school’s Corporate Internship Program since 1999. “Through their innovative Corporate Internship Program, we are together ensuring that all students have access to a high-quality educational experience."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is focused on improving the nation’s low high school graduation rates. To date, the foundation has committed more than $450 million in grants to expand educational options for high school students by creating new small schools and transforming existing large high schools into smaller learning communities. The effort is complemented by a rigorous evaluation process designed to gauge the effectiveness of the grantmaking and adapt to the changing education landscape.

The Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation is committed to helping religious congregations, dioceses and other groups begin Nativity/San Miguel and Cristo Rey schools in communities challenged by low educational attainment and limited academic options.  The foundation intends that its grantees contribute to a community by bringing Catholic or other faith-sponsored education to young people who otherwise cannot afford it, reducing the local dropout rate, and increasing the number of students prepared for post-secondary studies.

On the Internet:

Current Cristo Rey Schools

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School - Chicago
The Chicago Province of Jesuits opened the school in 1996 to serve young people in Pilsen/Little Village, a Latino community on Chicago’s southwest side.

Contact:   Joshua Hale, 773.890.6818
Web site:

De La Salle North Catholic High School – Portland, Ore.
The San Francisco District of De La Salle Christian Brothers opened the school in 2001 in North Portland, a community that is approximately 50 percent African-American. The school has two classes (freshman and sophomore) with a total population of 144. It plans to expand to 300 students.

Contact:  Matt Powell, 503-285-9385
Web site:

Juan Diego Catholic High School – Austin, Texas
The Catholic Diocese of Austin, Texas, opened the school in the fall of 2002 to serve low-income students in Austin, one of the country’s fastest growing cities. The school has 37 students and plans to grow to 400 students within the next five years.

Contact: Todd Austin, 512-804-1935
Web site:

Verbum Dei High School – Los Angeles
The California Province of Jesuits took over management of Verbum Dei in 2000. The school was about to close, prompting the Archdiocese to ask the Jesuits for assistance. The school opened as a Cristo Rey model in the fall of 2002 and is serving 142 students with plans to grow to 400 students in the next three years.

Contact: Jeff Bonino-Britsch, 323-564-6651
Web site:

Planned Cristo Rey Schools (Opening Fall 2003/2004)

Arrupe Jesuit High School – Denver, Colo.
The Missouri Province of Jesuits is opening this school in Denver, Colo., in the fall of 2003.  The school is recruiting students now and plans to have a freshman class of 100 students next fall. The school will be serving a city with a 36 percent public high school graduation rate among Hispanics and a 55 percent African-American graduation rate.

Contact: Fr. Steve Planning, 303-902-5077
Web site:

Cristo Rey New York High School – Harlem, New York
A coalition of laypeople, Jesuits, Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus and the De La Salle Christian Brothers will open the school in the fall of 2004 in East Harlem.  The school will use the dual language program that is in place at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School of Chicago.

Contact:  Bill Ford, 718.585.3338

North Cambridge Catholic High School – Cambridge, Mass.
An Archdiocesan central high school, North Cambridge Catholic, which serves 240 low-income students in greater Boston, will open as a Cristo Rey model school in the fall of 2004.  The school will serve 400 students.

Contact:  Sister Ellen Powers, CSJ, 617.876.6068

Lawrence, Mass. 
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are planning to open a Cristo Rey school in 2004 to serve what is currently the poorest city in New England. The sisters have worked in the community for 150 years and operated a school in Lawrence that closed in 1996.

Contact:  Sister Mary Murphy, SND, 978.682.6441

Cleveland, Ohio
Two religious congregations (the Detroit Province of Jesuits and the Sisters of the Humility of Mary) and a group of laypeople plan to open this school in the fall of 2004. Only 28 percent of Cleveland public high school students graduate from high school.

Contact:  Rich Clark, 216.281.4381

San Miguel Catholic High School – Tucson, Ariz.
The San Francisco District of De La Salle Christian Brothers is opening this school in 2004 to serve the southern part of the city of Tucson, reaching a Hispanic community along with the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yanqui Indian Reservations. Median family income is between $10,000 and $20,000.

Contact:  Henry Rillos, 520.792.3410 or 520.982.5167

St. Martin de Porres High School – Waukegan, Ill.
Four religious congregations and a coalition of laypeople intend to open the school in the fall of 2004 to serve young people from Waukegan and North Chicago. These communities have seen a 57.9 percent increase in the Hispanic population since 1990.  The high school drop out rate is approximately 50 percent.

Waukegan, IL:  Rev. George Rassas, 847.234.0205

Feasibility Studies Currently Underway

New Bern, N.C.
The Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., began a feasibility study in October 2002 that will conclude in 2003 to determine if a Cristo Rey model school is viable in the New Bern area, a community two hours south of Raleigh.

New Brunswick, N.J.
The Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., began a feasibility study in October of 2002 that will conclude in the spring of 2003 to determine whether a Cristo Rey model school can succeed in the greater New Brunswick community.

Wilmington, Del.
The Ministry of Caring, an organization run by the Capuchin priests that serves low-income people in Wilmington, Del., began a study in 2003.

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