LONG BEACH — Sister Rita Campos has shaped the lives of students at St. Athanasius Catholic School since 1982. But the principal of the K-8 school in North Long Beach will soon step down at the end of the school year.

Father Francis Ilano of St. Athanasius Church announced Tuesday that the school has suffered financially in recent years and that there would be a change in the school’s leadership, resulting in the replacement of Campos with newcomers to the school.

Three Franciscan sisters, two priests and a deacon of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles work at the school, according to the St. Athanasius website. The North Long Beach school has earned a reputation for allowing needy students, such as the children of domestic workers and undocumented immigrants, the opportunity to attend parochial school by offering them reduced tuition.

Ilano and Campos could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees all religious schools in the region, issued a statement saying the school is undergoing changes as part of a plan to increase enrollment and revenue and manage costs.
In addition to Campos, the other two Franciscan sisters who serve the school will leave in June.

On Tuesday, Ilano distributed a handout to members of the St. Athanasius community that noted the school has lost $150,000 in tuition and fees annually since the 2000-01 school year when 245 students attended the school. Today, just 160 students attend.
The handout identified increasing enrollment and tuition as solutions to St. Athanasius’ financial shortfall as well as fundraising.

Sonia Verduzco, a 1992 St. Athanasius alumna, said she doesn’t understand how replacing Campos with outside leadership would benefit the struggling school, given that the nuns essentially work for free while outsiders would require salaries.
“The Franciscan sisters were the ones who started the school, and they have been there for about 66 years,” Verduzco said.

This article comes from a February 11 article by Nadra Nittle in the Long Beach Press Telegram.