The Fall of St. Ignatius School

How a group of selfish individuals are slowly killing a beloved school.

By William Gallegos
Published on LatinoLA: August 20, 2015

The Fall of St. Ignatius School

In just this year alone, I keep hearing these stories from a good number of people about how my old elementary school, St. Ignatius School (in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Highland Park) is heading downhill. From its teachers being told time and time again that the school may not meet payroll to the church having to cut down on providing tuition assistance to its struggling families, it may be a matter of time until the school may be forced to shut its doors permanently.

Just down the road in nearby Glassell Park (another predominately Latino neighborhood), St. Bernard School is going through the opposite. Unlike St. Ignatius, St Bernard has had success in raising the funds that will help out their school, its students, and its struggling families. It wasn't that long ago when one of their events raised somewhere in the lower 5-figure range.

So those reading this may ask themselves, "So what is the problem with St Ignatius then?" I would like to share with you my story on who is likely responsible for the school's continuous mess.

In 2009, I reconnected with my high school for the first time in roughly 20 years when I helped organize my class reunion. Since then, I have continued my association with the school by being part of the committee that organizes their annual alumni gala. I have also donated several pairs of my Lakers season tickets each year (used in silent auctions and raffles) and for the last 5 years, have even set up my own scholarship which helps out students from struggling families (with 3 of the 5 student recipients being St Ignatius graduates).

In early 2010, I walked into the St Ignatius School Auditorium for the first time since my 1985 graduation, attending a small SI (St Ignatius) gathering. There, Father Art (the church Monsignor, who would transfer a couple of months later), reminded us about the importance of giving back to the school. It was at this moment that I decided it was time to reconnect with this school as well. So the question being asked to myself was, "what was I going to do when it comes to giving back to this school? I decided to come up with an idea that I truly believed was going to be both "groundbreaking and profitable". This idea was going to be a "St Ignatius Alumni Newsletter"!

In March of 2010, I presented the idea to the school's Principal, a member of the school's administration, and the person in charge of their Alumni Association. Though they recommended a few changes to my idea, they seem to like it.

By summer time of 2010, there seemed to be no response from the school and for a while, the idea was about to fade away, that is until an SI classmate of mine who was active with the school (his kids went there) asked me and my other SI classmates via email for feedback on how we could help our school out. When I presented him with the newsletter idea, he strongly recommended I present my idea at the next board of development meeting.

So I showed up on a Thursday evening and presented them with the idea. These board members consisted mostly of SI graduates from the 1970s and 80s (none of them having attended the same high school I went to) and whose duties it was to come up with ways to help out the school. The first idea I presented to the school was not the newsletter but an alumni gala where we would bring back classes from the past several decades and salute those classes celebrating milestone reunions (i.e...10th, 20th, 25th).

From what I always hear, their dances are a joke (one dance I heard hardly brought in anyone other than a few current SI parents and their friends). Someone needed to give these SI dances a major tune-up and that someone was going to be me. With this meeting taking place in August of 2010, my suggestion was to start planning ASAP for a 2011 summer event.

With me being part of my high school's alumni gala committee, I had the experience to make this SI event a possible success. Now as for the newsletter, I presented the board with a 12 page issue that would consist of such features as...."alumni spotlight", "faculty profile", "stories and photos from the past", "upcoming events page", current SI news, and "SI Yesteryear" (spotlighting a certain year in St Ignatius history).

The board was clearly told that I would do all the work when it came to gathering up all material (I was looking at 3-4 issues a year) and that they would not have to spend a dime in the making of these issues. On top of that, I was even going to throw in several pairs of my Laker Season tickets (200 level) each year as a way to lure both subscribers and donors. The only thing I asked for was a cut of the profits which would have been used solely for postage and stationary costs.

Besides the fact that I was giving away free Laker tickets, I knew that this newsletter would work mainly because of social media. Many of my SI friends who were aware of this newsletter were heavily in favor of this and were willing to help me in any way whatsoever (i.e.‘«™..stories, photos).

The best was yet to come when it came to these SI ideas. At least I thought it was!

So when it came down to getting the OKs on my ideas, the board would reject the alumni gala idea without ever giving a reason (5 years later, I still don't know why it was rejected). Now as for the newsletter, it too was rejected but what angered me most was not the fact that it was rejected but why it was. There were many reasons given in a span of months.

Ready for the board's reasons for its rejection?

First, I was told that the monsignor who replaced Father Art had the final saying (to this day, he probably still doesn't know about the newsletter). Second, I was told that the Los Angeles Archdiocese had rejected it (this was proven by 3 different individuals to be a total lie). Third, I was told that the board had approved it but that it could only be a 2-page newsletter (no reason ever given for this). They then said that they would consider expanding the number of pages if I donated my Laker tickets to the school. Fourth, the Principal had rejected the newsletter. This too was a total lie since she personally told me that she loved the idea, not because it would've been profitable but because it would've lured back the alumni (of course, the board gave this reason after she was transferred out). And fifth, they said it was because they did not want to pay me (they clearly said weeks earlier that they had no problem giving me a cut of the profits for postage and stationary costs and that they would even make me "a vendor").

Now as for the three individuals claiming that the Archdiocese rejecting the newsletter was a total individual who does a lot for his catholic elementary school told me that if a newsletter idea was ever presented to him, he would have had the final saying, not the Archdiocese. A second individual who was a secretary for many years at the Catholic Church near my work (and an SI graduate from the 50s) told me that the Archdiocese "NEVER" gets involved with school fundraisers. And the third individual, another SI grad who I have known since my SI days, told me that the "Archdiocese rejected it" excuse is used every time a request or idea is presented to the board (proving that I am not the only one getting screwed over and lied to by these board members). This individual also told me that for years already, these board members have been doing nothing more than "poisoning the school". One of the parents whose son received a scholarship from me even said that the school has been going downhill for years because of the board.

It was around this time that I was considering doing a story similar to this story that you are reading, exposing the truth on this board, but I was strongly recommended by my SI classmate not to do it because if I did, he believed SI would permanently shut the door on this idea. He asked me to please be patient since there was still a chance of an approval in the near future. I told him that I would but only until march 2011 (that is when it would be one year since my idea was first presented). It was the fall of 2010 when he made this request.

It was now nearing March of 2011. With no hope on the newsletter being considered for approval, it was time to make one last attempt. I would contact the president of the board via email, where I lashed out at him for the many lies given to me the past few months regarding why the newsletter was rejected (including the lies about the archdiocese rejecting it). I gave him my belief on how the board had a problem with me the moment I first introduced myself to them. I even told him how the board likely had a problem with me because of the high school I went to and because of what I have done in giving back to them. I reminded him about the many struggling parents currently at SI and about the fact that me and him were lucky to have graduated from this school. I even challenged him into letting me talk to the SI parents on getting their feedback on the newsletter.

I told him to "PLEASE" take the time to think about what I just said and to "PLEASE" think about the kids and their financially-struggling parents. My email to him was probably worth 15-20 minutes of reading. So rather than taking a few days to think about what I told him, he responds back within 24 hours to tell me, "I feel your frustration (SURE!) but at this moment, we could only approve a 2-page newsletter (once again, no reason ever given for this). He wouldn't comment on the "challenge" nor would he admit or deny anything mentioned in my long email (i.e.‘«™the lies brought on by the board, why I believed the board had a problem with me since day one). His only other comment was that he would bring up the newsletter at the next meeting.

Seriously? After a whole year of still waiting, he's going to tell me that he'll bring up the newsletter at the next meeting? What a joke!!!! I told him how he should be ashamed of himself, how I am not waiting any longer just to be told once again that it's being rejected, how this conversation is officially over, and how I don't want to hear from him anymore.

So this was when I then told my SI classmate that I have given up. I thanked him for his support but told him it was time to move on.

Just a little side note‘«™ I was also told months earlier that in addition to only getting a 2-page newsletter approved, I would still be made the editor but the board would have the final saying on what goes in each issue. Why even make me an editor? That's like being made the school's football coach but the board has the final saying in what plays are called and who starts each game.

And just another little side note, when Father Art told us back in 2010 to remember to give back, some of these same board members were in that same room listening to him.

In the summer of 2011, I would receive a letter in the mail by an individual who was now the new Principal at SI. She was asking all alumni to please consider donating to the school in order to help improve the conditions of the playground. So rather than sending her a donation, I sent her an 8-page letter explaining my alumni gala and newsletter ideas, how they were both rejected, and the lies given for the rejection of the newsletter by the board. She would not have the courtesy to respond back (SURPRISE!!!). As for making a donation, why give to a school who won't welcome its alumni or their ideas?

What the board may have not realized was that by this time, I was now in charge of my high school alumni newsletter, which was doing well and which was luring back alumni (the new SI Principal was given a copy of the newsletter along with the 8-page letter).

One of the reasons why I bring this up is because during the months that I was trying to get the SI newsletter approved, I was asked by the lady in charge of the SI Alumni Association to come over to the school and meet the individual who would take charge of the designing part of the newsletter. This man was nothing more than a volunteer for the school (he had kids who had graduated from SI some years earlier) but yet acted as if he was the big man on campus. Instead of talking about printing and designing, he would instead start grilling me with question after question not related to printing and designing. He insisted that no one was going to contribute to the SI newsletter and that it would fail immediately.

And while he was knocking down my idea, the lady in charge of the SI Alumni Association who arranged the meeting was sitting there quietly, not even defending me or coming to my support. When I later told her through a phone conversation why she sat there the whole time without saying anything on my defense, all she could say to me was that, "yeah, he does get a little out of hand". Some people from SI have told me that the SI Alumni Association is a joke because of this lady who by the way is also a part of this board. The meeting with this individual quickly ended without ever discussing printing and designing.

As for the newsletter I am currently in charge of, I am happy to say that we are already 12 issues strong!

Oh, by the way‘«™‘«™ permission was ever needed by the Archdiocese in order to make these issues!

In early 2014, my SI classmate contacted me to talk once again about the SI newsletter. He mentioned how he understood my frustration at what had happened in 2010 and early 2011 with the newsletter and appreciated my intentions on helping the school. He did mention to me how the new Principal at the time was doing a lot in improving the school in many ways (I also heard this from several other individuals associated with SI). Knowing the success of the newsletter I was currently in charge of and knowing the amount of money raised from the Laker tickets I was donating to my high school (having donated roughly a dozen games since 2011), it was at this moment where I was asked by my SI classmate to please consider giving the SI Newsletter another shot. I was told that with this new Principal in charge (actually, a now "3rd year" principal) and with my SI classmate having now joined this same development board, there was reason to have hope.

After some thinking, I decided to give it another chance but under a few conditions. First, I work only with the principal (I didn't need the board members breathing down my back, telling me how to create an issue). Second, I choose the designer (I had an SI graduate/friend willing to design in exchange for free Laker tickets). And third, I decide on both the number of pages and its contents (12 pages still). I was not being picky but was simply making sure I would enjoy creating these issues. I was even not going to ask for a cut of the profits for postage and stationary costs. Just like last time, these newsletters would have been done free of charge.

I would receive an email from the Principal, thanking me for reconsidering the newsletter. When asking me when would be a good time to meet up with her to further discuss the newsletter, I not only sent her my conditions but told her she would have to get the okay of the newsletter in writing by the board before setting up a meeting. I politely told her that I was not going to wait and wait and wait for an answer (like I did in 2010-11) and therefore, wanted an answer before setting up a meeting. She said she would get back to me in a few days (which would have been the following Monday).

Almost two weeks passed and still no response.

This was when I contacted her, politely letting her know once again that I was not going to go through a repeat of 2010-11 by waiting and waiting and waiting and therefore told her that if I did not get an approval from the board by the end of the week, I was shutting the door on the newsletter. She would respond back within 24 hours telling me that it may not be worth taking this any further.

Despite the fact that I was willing to do this newsletter for free, despite the fact that the school would not spend a dime on the making of these issues, and despite the fact that I was still willing to donate several pairs of Laker season tickets each year, the Principal would end up telling me that the board once again rejected the newsletter (of course, no reason ever given). By the way, I did mention the 8-page letter I sent to her in summer of 2011 (in response to the playground donation) and asked why she did not respond to me. She would end up telling me that she did get the letter and when presenting the idea to the board that summer, they once again rejected it. What is interesting about this is that she made no mention of the board ever denying what was mentioned in the 8-page letter. As for my SI classmate who was now a board member, his voice was not enough to make the SI Newsletter a reality.

Being the brutally honest person that I am, I told this principal how I believed she did not do enough in supporting me. To me, these board members likely control both her and the school the same way the greedy unions control both LA City Hall and its council members (I did tell her this). I also told her how I believed that these board members were likely her friends. She would deny the "friends" part by insisting that she hardly even knows them (this was later proven to be a lie and yes‘«™.I did bring this lie up to her as well). I ended the conversation by telling her how she insulted my intelligence and how she was not to respond back to me since the conversation was officially done. She would end up resigning as Principal once the 2013-14 school year ended weeks later. Some people from SI say she left because she wanted to focus on a side business of hers. I believe there was much more to why she left SI.

What people need to remember is that the economy is not getting better, even though people out there have been suckered into believing that it is. Many of these catholic elementary schools in predominantly low-income Latino neighborhoods continue to see enrollment slowly decrease due to both rising tuition costs and as mentioned, a tough economy. We have even seen some schools fall victim by shutting its doors permanently (i.e.‘«™.All Souls in Alhambra and just recently, Our Lady Help of Christians in Lincoln Heights). Trust me when I say that the closing of Catholic schools is a national problem!

These days, the LA Archdiocese-run elementary schools can't rely on financial aid from the churches because the churches themselves have had their own financial problems to deal with (in case you were in some frozen chamber during the last ten years, the Archdiocese is still paying off victims and lawyers thanks in part to those priests who committed abuse decades ago). As mentioned at the beginning of my story, I was told by sources that the Church isn't giving aid to struggling SI families like they use to before.

It was once mentioned from an individual whose kids attended SI some years ago that the Archdiocese had considered merging nearby Divine Savior (in Cypress Park) with SI due to both schools having low enrollment (Divine Savior would have moved in with SI) but in recent years, Divine Savior has seen a rise in enrollment and therefore, are staying put.

Think about it people! How is it that of the 3 neighboring schools all located in low-income Latino neighborhoods (Divine Savior, St Bernard, St Ignatius), SI is the only one of the three going downhill?

The answer is simple‘«™‘«™the wrong people are running it!

Now if you look at the enrollment of the Catholic High Schools in Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods, you will notice two things‘«™..tuition is higher than ever and a very large percentage of its student body comes from low-income Latino neighborhoods. So what makes them able to survive financially at the more-expensive Catholic High school level?

Easy‘«™‘«™.a strong connection between the school and its alumni!

What makes this type of connection successful are two simple things‘«™..the desire to lure its alumni back with open arms and their willingness to listen to the ideas and suggestions of those same alumni members. It is these type of things that result in the raising of large donations and the creation of fundraising events (many of these events being the ideas of your average alumni member whose voice was heard). In the end, the alumni get to reminisce with their old friends at their school's fundraising events and the struggling parents get the financial help they ever so needed. Telling a stranger, who once attended the school you are now the new Principal of, to please donate money to help improve the conditions of the school is not the way to go. Luring them back to the school with open arms, helping them reminisce the good old days with other schoolmates through events, and then making them aware of the present-day conditions of both the school and its struggling parents is the way to go!

Now as for St Ignatius, it is a far different story. The problem here is that if it is not your idea, the development board is not going to approve it (trust me when I say that I am not the only concerned alumni who has fallen victim to the board). To this board, it not about the alumni, the students, or the financially-struggling parents. It is about themselves and only themselves! Unless you are an SI alum whose kids currently attend SI, the majority of those who graduated from SI wouldn't care less about what's currently going on at their former school. It was going to be my job to make sure that they did. Sadly, the board is purposely keeping that from happening.

As for the future of SI‘«™ SI classmate has since resigned from the board, insisting that it is not worth attending monthly meetings where all the same board members ever do is yell at each other meeting after meeting (this classmate's youngest kid has now graduated from SI). From what I have been told by other long time SI parents (including one who recently told me how sorry and angry she was for the way the board treated me), they have no intentions on associating with SI once their youngest kids graduate from there as well.

As for the Principal, the school is now on its third one in the last five years (I am guessing this Principal will only be here until a better job opportunity comes along). I was recently asked by another individual who kids went to SI a decade or so ago to give this Principal a try, hoping that perhaps she may favor both the alumni gala and newsletter. I appreciated the support from this former SI parent but I declined because regardless of how nice and honest this new Principal is, the board would still have the final saying. And besides, I don't want anything to do with the school. They couldn't pay me big dollars to make a newsletter with the board still in existence.

Now the truth is, could the alumni gala and newsletter ideas have saved the school the same way a superhero saves the Earth? Of course not but what it would have done was‘«™1) lured back the alumni, 2) make the alumni aware of the current financial situation of today's SI parents, 3) raise some decent funds through both donations and better-promoted fundraising events, and 4) taken this school in the right direction (something that has not happened in years). What was there to lose, considering that all was going to be done free of charge and considering that I would be donating several pairs of 200 level Laker tickets?

Think about it‘«™‘«™you get both the right people and the SI parents to back up one's ideas and before you know it, there is no need for the development board to even exist! Just for the record, one of things I was told by the Principal who left in 2014 was that she believed the Board saw me as "a threat" (I still have the email of her telling me this).

As for my predictions of this school, I believe that as long as this Board of Development exists, the school will continue to sink. I'll give this school some 5 years before it finally sinks to the bottom of the ocean. And when that does happen, these same board members will be the first to abandon ship.

This story is as accurate as can be and which I stand by 100%.

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