COLLEEN HRONCICH, CATO INSTITUTE
“After extensive discussion, with truly a heavy heart both for all of us and the Diocese, it has been decided that St. Edward School and Pre‐School will close, effective immediately,” Fr. Keith Walder, pastor of St. Edward Parish in Chillicothe, IL, announced in July 2016. Emergency repairs and not enough money to cover them had led to the surprising announcement.
But families, parishioners, and alumni leapt into action, raising more than $400,000 in just three days—an impressive feat in a small town. Dubbed the “Miracle in Chillicothe,” the donations enabled the school to undertake the needed repairs and remain open.
A few years later, principal Mike Domico and the new pastor, Fr. Matthew Deptula, realized they needed to right‐size the school to ensure it stayed academically and financially strong. Mike realized implementing multiage classrooms could work, so he began investigating them.
The data on outcomes from multiage classrooms was very encouraging. As Mike thought about it, he realized it made sense. He’d been a band director for 27 years, so he’d been teaching in multiage classrooms his whole career. Once he was convinced it could work, he started researching best practices to bring to St. Edward.
In January 2020, Mike and Fr. Matt announced the school would transition to a multiage approach in the fall. They planned a series of meetings to help staff and families understand the benefits and how it would work. Then COVID-19 hit, derailing the planned meetings.
Stymied from meeting in person, Mike communicated through a “Friday Facts” email series that he sent to all families. Each issue dealt with a different aspect of the multiage/microschool format. He invited parents and staff to share any questions or concerns with him. His open approach worked, and the school didn’t lose any families from the transition.
The school is now divided into preschool, kindergarten, grades 1–2, and grades 3–4. For grades 5–8, there are different grouping depending on the subject. One of the benefits of the new approach is that kids spend two years in the same classroom with the same teacher. This gives them extra time to obtain the skills needed to move to the next level. In addition to the main teacher, there are aides who help when the children break into different groups by skill level.
The first year of the multiage approach was a bit tricky due to COVID-19 restrictions that made group work and projects difficult. But the second year, which just wrapped up this week, was a big improvement. Mike is a complete convert to the multiage approach and says even if the school doubles in size, he wouldn’t go back to single age.
“Don’t be afraid to do this,” says Mike when asked his advice to schools that are considering a multiage approach. He notes people have been wired to believe that regular classrooms have to be single age, but that’s not true. He sees the multiage classrooms leading to deeper learning compared to single age classrooms.
Mike’s “Friday Facts” are available on the school’s website, and he’s happy to let other school leaders use them as needed. A variety of other multiage resources are there as well.
Colleen Hroncich is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. A mother of four—whose children have experienced public, private, cyber, and home education—Colleen was well‐versed in school choice long before she began working to advance it. After 17 years as a stay‐at‐home mom, Colleen re‐entered the policy world through the Koch Fellow Program in 2017. She spent nearly four years as a senior fellow and senior policy analyst with the Commonwealth Foundation working for educational freedom in her native Pennsylvania. She was recently a visiting fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum. Colleen has a degree in economics from the University of Maryland. Following college, she interned at the American Enterprise Institute and then joined the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Pittsburgh as a research associate.