The Duluth area Catholic School system, recently merged under Stella Maris Academy is finishing its first trimester as a unified school.
Leaders behind the merger cite declining enrollment in Duluth Catholic schools and a desire for collaboration between the parish schools as reasons for the major change.
One school, three campuses is the final result of the Duluth diocese plan to merge the city's Catholic schools into one community leaving Holy Rosary serving pre-K-4th grade and St. Johns serving middle school students on the east side, and St. James housing pre K through 8th grade in West Duluth.
Interim President Hilaire Hauer said the merge has helped create the sense of community she said parents often look for in Catholic education.
"It made great sense to bring children of like ages together in learning communities together and as well with our staff," she said.
Though for parents of St. Michael's Lakeside students, like Lisa Fedora, hearing their school would close as part of the process wasn't easy.
"We were very satisfied with St. Michael's and what they provided for our kids, but at the same time, I understood, and my husband who was in the financial field, we understood that there was this low numbers at that school so I wasn't surprised," she said.
But Fedora said, moving her 2nd and 3rd grade children to Stella Maris was easier than she expected
"It seemed like a seamless transition, and they're happy with the students and with the teachers especially," she said.
Parents said they see a sense of unity in their kids, because they don't just see themselves as former St. Michael's students, St. John's students or Holy Rosary students. They said the kids see themselves as a part of Stella Maris, which principals, like Peggy Frederickson, was the goal when they moved to the new campuses.
"The kids were the easy transition piece, they just came to a new school with us," she said.
Holy Rosary campus principal Frederickson said most of the work came through the behind the scenes, combining budgets, applying for accreditation, merging staffs and simplifying the process for those kids and parents.
"It's just been easy. On this end at least," said Fedora.
For her, it's been an easy start, to a years' long effort for unification.
So far, Stella Maris has more than 500 students between its three campuses, and class sizes for many have increased from eight to ten, to 16 to 20.
School spokespeople said since the merger, roughly a half-dozen new families have enrolled in the Duluth Catholic Schools system.