Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2013, 10:00 am

Catholic school has new name, same management

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By Leon Lagerstam,

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Our Lady of Grace Academy students Lily and Will Taylor, Mercedes Ramirez- Ross, Noah Ricke, Eric Castenada and Hailey Hart hope the school's upcoming Mardi Gras fundraiser is a success when the event is held on Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at 603 18th Ave., East Moline. Tickets are $30 and are available at the school office until Feb. 8. Raffle tickets are $100.
EAST MOLINE — Our Lady of Grace Academy's name may be newer, but it's still under the same management — God's.

School leaders want to make sure people are aware of that.

"The biggest problem this school faces is that no one knows what a gem is located on the east side of the Quad-Cities,'' school representative Tom Taylor said by email. "It has been rumored to close for years, but the Rock Island Vicariat and the diocese have committed to keeping it running.

"Its enrollment is on the increase, and it has a great administration, excellent teaching staff and is an asset to East Moline and the surrounding community,'' he said.

School leaders hope a ''couple windows" opening in the next couple weeks will help boost the academy's visibility, Sister Stefanie MacDonald said.

National Catholic Schools' Week begins Jan. 27, and runs through Feb. 2, followed by the academy's annual Mardi Gras fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, in Cleary Hall at St. Anne's Catholic Church, 1705 6th Ave., East Moline. Tickets are $30.

It's theschool's largest fundraising activity, Sister MacDonald said."It makes up a big portion of our overall budget, so it's extremely important."

The event includes silent and active auctions for prizes that include airline tickets, condo rentals, party bus use, Cubs tickets and smaller items, such as a loaf of Panera bread every week for a year, Sister MacDonald said.

The fundraiser also will feature great food, adult beverages and a wonderful night out for attendees, principal Scott Turnipseed said.

Guests also will have the chance to win Mardi Gras Magic Raffle prizes of $10,000, $5,000, $2,500 and $1,199. Raffle tickets cost $100, and are available at the school office, at 603 18th Ave., East Moline, or by calling the office at (309) 755-9771.

"The goal is to raise several thousand dollars to help support the school,'' Mr. Turnipseed said.

"It also gives you another boost to help get your name out there," Sister MacDonald said.

Many people don't know what school you're talking about when you say you work at Our Lady of Grace, but when you say St. Anne's or St. Mary's, everybody recognizes those names, she said.

The two church schools combined in 2004 and named the new school "Our Lady of Grace."

"We are actually celebrating the 101st year of Catholic education in East Moline," Mr. Turnipseed said.

"And I think we're unique in the Diocese of Peoria," Sister MacDonald said. "We are a Catholic school in the lower- to middle-income range, and we serve a large Hispanic area. We're about 56 to 57 percent Latino, so we're unique in that way. And we're very much a family, where everybody takes care of each other. We all chip in where needed, and everybody works well together."

Our Lady of Grace students tend to be extra polite, said Mr. Turnipseed, who retired a few years ago from a public school career, including stints as principal at Horace Mann Elementary School in Moline, and Bicentennial Elementary School in Coal Valley.

He was a substitute teacher at the Black Hawk Education Center for a couple years, before accepting the administrative post at Our Lady of Grace.

"I certainly like the opportunity to be with a faith-based education system," he said, adding that findingmore similarities than differences between public and private schools surprised him the most when taking over in July.

"I spent my career in public schools, so I won't beat them down, but anytime there are viable options it forces both systems to be competitive. What we offer here is different than what public school offers, so parents have the choice.

"We have to get the word out that we're here, and that our class sizes are certainly smaller than the public schools," Mr. Turnipseed said.

Our Lady of Grace is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school with 150 students and 12 staff members. Average class sizes are 17 students.Half-day and full-day pre-k programs are available, as well as all-day kindergarten.

"We provide a well-rounded education, Mass once a week, do religious education during the day, a fine arts play in fall and spring and a sports program, including volleyball and basketball," he said.

More parent-teacher communication is typical, Mr. Turnipseed said, adding parents pick up their students, so if anyone needs to talk to a staff member, it's easy and convenient.

"It's a great place to be," said Sister MacDonald, who teaches pre-k students. "It's under a new name, but we pay careful consideration to the roots of St. Anne's and St. Mary's, and we're still under God's management."