St. Peter Catholic School in Pine Bluff to close

PINE BLUFF – After 123 years of serving the Pine Bluff community, St. Peter School will close its doors May 25.
On May 2, after consultation with the Office of Catholic Schools and Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, Father Anil Thomas, pastor of St. Peter Church, decided that the school will not reopen for the 2012-2013 school year. The decision is based on the low pre-registration enrollment.

History of black Catholic schools in Arkansas
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Father Thomas made a decision early in April to accept enrollment from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade with the anticipation that there would be enough students to enroll in these grades to provide the income for operation next school year. The enrollment target was 60 students. On May 1, with only 37 students registered for the fall, it was decided that St. Peter Church could no longer financially subsidize the operation of the school.
In November 2011, Father Thomas proposed his Seven-Seven-Seven Campaign. In seven days he wanted to raise $175,000 to keep the school open for seven months and to develop a seven-year plan. His first two goals were realized.

Donations of $175,000 allowed the school to remain open through this month. In developing the seven-year plan, it became evident that sustained enrollment plays a major part in the viability of a Catholic school. All Catholic schools typically use tuition to cover the majority of their operational expenses.
The school currently has 58 students in pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, five teachers and four staff members. Its interim principal is Sylvana Niciteretse.
St. Peter School is one of the oldest Catholic schools in the state. It is the last predominantly black Catholic school in the state. It opened in 1889 as the Colored Industrial Institute.

History of black Catholic schools in Arkansas
Catholic schools for black students dated back to 1889 when the Colored Industrial Institute opened. It was later renamed St. Peter School. In 1960 there were 10 predominately black schools. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, they all closed.
Elementary schools
Good Shepherd School, Conway, closed in 1965
St. John the Baptist, Fort Smith, closed in 1968
St. Cyprian, Helena, closed in 1963
St. Gabriel, Hot Springs, closed in 1968
St. Bartholomew School, Little Rock, closed in 1974
St. Augustine, North Little Rock, closed in 1976
St. Raphael School, Pine Bluff, closed in 1960
St. Peter, Pine Bluff, closed from 1975 to 1985, closed in 2012

High schools
St. Bartholomew High School, Little Rock, closed in 1964
Colored Industrial Institute/St. Peter High School, Pine Bluff, closed in 1975
The Benedictine sisters in Pocahontas opened a school in 1888, but its name is unknown.
Source: Catholic Schools Office, Diocese of Little Rock

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