Cristo Rey School looks at opening in Charleston

Miscellany/Danny Jost: Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone speaks to Joan Mack after the Cristo Rey announcement June 27 at the pastoral center.

CHARLESTON—Lower-income families could soon be the recipients of an alternative form of schooling; one that offers Catholic education for a fragment of regular tuition.

Officials from the Cristo Rey Network, which provides high school education specifically for at-need families — with 35 locations in 22 states — spoke at the Diocese of Charleston’s pastoral center in Charleston on June 27 to announce its desire to open a school here.

Its mission is to provide people with limited financial resources an opportunity to attend a rigorous college-preparatory school, while at the same time giving its students invaluable work experience.  

“At Cristo Rey schools, a student attends four days of classes that run from 7:30 to 4:30. On the other day, the student goes to work for a local business,” said Conor Heaton, director of school growth.

Roughly 50-60% of the cost of tuition is earned by students in their part-time jobs, Heaton said. The remainder of tuition is calculated based on income and need. Not only is this method financially practical, it also teaches students the confidence and people skills necessary for finding a job.

While Cristo Rey Schools serve people from a multitude of religious backgrounds, 60% of the students are Catholic.

“I am delighted by the interest and response that our community is giving,” Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said at the information session. “I know the power of these schools, and I believe this can make a difference for Charleston.”  

Heaton described Charleston as an ideal location, noting that the school would initially serve 125 students, with a goal of 500.

First, however, they must conduct an 18-month feasibility assessment, which requires 25 letters of intent from local businesses, a suitable site, $2.5 million, and a religious sponsor. Funding has been secured and a number of businesses have already expressed interest in participating.

Around 70 leaders from the area’s religious, business, political, and educational communities attended the event and expressed optimism about the prospect of opening a Cristo Rey School. Several people pointed out that the learning model would be a manifestation of the Catholic commitment to serve those in need.  

“The concept of a Cristo Rey school is a win-win for Charleston. It is the perfect partnership of private industry and the Church,” S.C. Rep. Joe Daning said. 

A local business owner said he believes a Cristo Rey School would help shift the achievement gap.  

“You always hear about people wanting to disrupt the current educational system. I believe that a Cristo Rey school would disrupt the system in a positive way by helping the underserved get ahead,” said Paul Heinauer, founder of Glasspro.

Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette said she has heard from many businesses that are looking for students interested in a work-study program, starting as early as junior high. She said pairing business and education is an ideal way to offer families opportunity in schools of choice.

“Cristo Rey is like a lighthouse to those swimming in the dark,” said  Jordan Pace, a local realtor.

By Danny Jost/Special to The Miscellany