Triangle leaders start innovative prep school for underserved

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Mark Baric and a group of successful Triangle business leaders know that a great high school education is a launching pad for career success. Too often, students from lower-income families don’t get the chance to excel.

Cristo Rey Research Triangle High School hopes to offer that platform for 100 freshmen when it opens next September at downtown Durham’s American Tobacco  Campus. Plans call for adding classes of 100 new students for a four-year college prep school that will be part of the national, 37-school Cristo Rey network.

“We hope to change the trajectory of their lives and their families’ lives,” says Baric, who chairs the school’s board. “Education is the key to changing one’s economic fortunes.”

That was Baric’s experience. He grew up in western Pennsylvania, the oldest of seven siblings, with Croatian immigrant parents who spoke limited English. He attended parochial schools, then earned a bachelor’s degree at Clarion University and an MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. That propelled him into a Wall Street job, which led to his cofounding Seer Technologies, a financial software company that moved its headquarters to Cary in the early 1990s. After going public in 1995 as the largest Triangle tech IPO at the time, Seer struggled and was acquired by Level8 Technologies in 1998.

Baric later worked for the Virtus Entertainment gaming company and has since helped develop a variety of Triangle companies, while also focusing on civic affairs.

He chaired a Catholic Diocese of Raleigh effort to build and open St. Michael School in Cary and St, Mary Magdalene Catholic School in Apex. Those schools opened in 2000 and now each has about 500 students in pre-K through eighth grades, he says.

He also helped open a downtown food pantry in Durham that has operated for the last two years. “That helps out folks when they get two weeks of groceries and then they come back,” he says. “An education can put these young minds on a different career path that will change their lives.”

About 98% of the 12,200 Cristo Rey enrollees nationally are minority students of color, while 99% of the program’s 18,000 graduates were accepted into college. The Chicago-based school program also features internships for students who otherwise wouldn’t know much about the business world, Baric says.

At full capacity of 400 students, the Durham school will have a $5 million annual budget, much of it supported by local companies, foundationsand professional firms including BB&T, Cisco, Cree and the French/West/Vaughan marketing company. The board of directors includes former CEOs Chuck Swoboda of Cree and Ed Fritsch of Highwoods Properties and Michael Goodmon, senior vice president of Capitol Broadcasting, the developer of the American Tobacco campus.

The Durham’s school’s president is Michael Fedewa, who was superintendent of schools for the Raleigh Diocese for more than 25 years.

Asked why not just support existing local public and private schools, Baric says the leaders were impressed with the “very singular focus” of Cristo Rey to help disadvantaged students thrive. “There are great public and private schools, but a lot of economically disadvantaged students wouldn’t have this opportunity otherwise. Cristo Rey has a proven model with a record of success in 37 cities.”

The Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, started the first Cristo Rey school in Chicago in 1993 and now operates in 24 states. The group’s growth has come during a period when many traditional Catholic schools have closed nationally, according to its website.

 

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