A diverse school that has attracted many children from immigrant families, St. Martin is one of 15 city schools the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has designated as mission schools. St. Cyril of Alexandria in East Lansdowne is on the list as well. Annual tuition at the schools is less than $4,000.
Each of the schools, McElwee noted, is within the catchment boundaries of public schools whose poor academic performance places them in the bottom 15 percent in the state. Families in those areas are eligible to apply for scholarships under Corbett's new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program, which provides up to $8,500 in aid for nonpublic schools.
Corbett praised the network of Independence Mission Schools for its innovative approach and said: "As long as I'm governor, I'm going to be watching what you are doing . . . to see how this works to improve education for all Pennsylvanians."
The mission schools are forming individual boards to help them marshal financial resources to serve their low-income communities.
Although the mission schools will continue to work with the archdiocese, McElwee said, they were on track to becoming independent of parish control by July 1.
At Friday's event, he announced that Aldo Cavalli, a former charter-school administrator who has experience with mental-health and juvenile programs, will lead the new 16-school network.
Anne McGoldrick, an experienced financial executive, was named chief financial officer.
"Any enterprise is dependent on the quality of its management," McElwee said before Friday's announcement. "We are very, very fortunate to attract these two people, who are not only qualified but highly mission-driven."
Both Cavalli and McGoldrick are Philadelphia natives who were educated in local parochial schools. The appointments take effect immediately.
Cavalli, who resigned last month as chief executive officer of Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Bethlehem, Pa., said he was thrilled to lead the pioneering network. As soon as he heard about the mission concept, he said, he wanted to be involved.
"I can honestly say, this is the most excited I've been about a new position in my professional career," he told the audience at St. Martin of Tours.
The mission concept is based on the successful model of St. Martin de Porres school in North Philadelphia, which has increased enrollment, stabilized finances, and added programs.
The archdiocese embraced the model last year as part of a broad restructuring of Catholic education that included closing and consolidating dozens of elementary schools.
In his remarks, McElwee thanked Bishop Michael F. Fitzgerald, who oversees Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who could not attend.
"Without your vision and support," McElwee said, "this would not be possible."
Independence Mission Schools is the umbrella organization that is assisting the schools. McElwee said the board has a goal of raising an endowment of $55 million over the next four years and of expanding enrollment.
Now, 4,200 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade attend the 16 schools. Sixty-three percent of the students are not Catholic and live in low-income neighborhoods.
Each mission school sent two students to the event. Eighth grader Maya Merriman, 13, said she was honored to represent St. Peter the Apostle school in Northern Liberties. She has attended the school since prekindergarten, and her mother and uncle are graduates.
"I'm happy that they're doing something about Catholic schools," Merriman said, "and bringing the Catholic schools together so that kids that aren't able to afford a Catholic school can have the chance to get that experience."
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