Burbank Catholic School May Close for Lack of Students

Times Staff Writer

Providence High School, despite a $1-million face lift this summer, must increase enrollment by 50% or close down at the end of the academic year in June, administrators have been told.

In a Sept. 21 letter seeking help from alumni of the Roman Catholic school in Burbank, Sister Barbara Schamber, superior of the provincial office in Seattle, said local administrators had until February to prove they can raise the 1989-90 enrollment to 300 students. Vice Principal Victor LeBreton said enrollment at the 4-year, coeducational school now stands at 208 students.

"Today, Providence High School is faced with a dwindling enrollment, a financial loss which this year is projected to reach approximately $300,000 and the problem of how to meet our commitment to quality education in a setting with too few students," Schamber wrote.

As part of a long-range plan, the order of nuns that runs the school--the Sisters of Providence--was asked to "reflect on the future need for a private secondary Catholic school in the Burbank area," Schamber said.

'Incredible Response'

LeBreton said Monday that receiving the news was "tough, but we're tougher." He said administrators, teachers and parents agreed after a meeting last week to join together with renewed vigor to try to meet the challenge.

"The response has been incredible on the part of the students," LeBreton said. "They are telling us their sisters, brothers and cousins are coming next year for sure. . . . We're all out there hustling."

The Sisters of Providence authorized a $1-million overhaul of school buildings--including new carpets, tiles, paint, vertical blinds and air conditioning--which was completed during the summer. But LeBreton said the school has no regrets about spending the money, even in a time of dwindling enrollment.

"We're selling a quality product and it fits right in with everything else," he said. "It's a very visible sign of our determination to grow and get better."

LeBreton blamed the declining enrollment on decreasing numbers of high school-age youth in the Burbank area and on the competition among the three area Catholic schools. He also said the quality of Burbank public schools makes parents less interested in sending their offspring to private schools.

Although LeBreton downplays any similarities, these were the kinds of pressures cited when Corvallis High School in Studio City closed in 1986.

Unlike the other two area Catholic high schools--Bellarmine Jefferson in Burbank and Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks--Providence does not have a football team. LeBreton said the ambiance of football attracts some students, and frequent mention in newspaper sports pages gives the schools added visibility.

"One thing we'll be doing is expanding our athletic curriculum in the coming years, without necessarily going to football," he said.

LeBreton was emphatic that entrance criteria--which include an exam, a thorough review of transcripts and an interview--would not be dropped at Providence. However, he said the number of scholarships to help families pay the $3,175 annual tuition will be increased.

Three staff members have been assigned full time to recruitment, he said, and parents are forming a committee to help publicize Providence.

"We've pretty much kept the school to ourselves too much," LeBreton said. "Some people call it the best-kept secret in Burbank."

The all-girls school opened in tents at the current site in 1933. The highest enrollment was reached about 1970, LeBreton said, when more than 400 girls attended. He said enrollment dropped slightly after boys were admitted in 1974, but then grew again.

The school offers a college-preparatory curriculum in a well-disciplined setting, he said. Class size ranges from 26 students to fewer than a dozen.

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