We Are Lawrence

Aiming high: Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School touts 100 percent college rate for grads (Eagle Tribune, September 22, 2017)

Staff photo Cristo Rey students work on a digital assignment in Suzanne Sabine's chemistry class

"LAWRENCE — When Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School was founded in 2004, its mission was to give students from low-income families in Lawrence the opportunity to receive a solid Catholic education and win acceptance at colleges and universities.

Thirteen years later, Cristo Rey is batting 1.000, according to Sister Maryalyce Gilfeather, SND, PhD, the school's president and a longtime member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Every student who has enrolled here has not only earned a high school diploma but has been accepted into a four-year college, Gilfeather said. Furthermore, most of the students who were enrolled at Cristo Rey during its first decade have graduated from college, she added.


Students at Cristo Rey High School are literally working and learning their way out of poverty. When a boy or girl first enrolls at this school, he or she is most likely an average student, according to Gilfeather.

Four years later, however, that student is ready to succeed in college, she said.

Asked how the students achieve this progress, Gilfeather said, "A rigorous curriculum and high expectations." Dr. Anthony Zavagnin, the principal whom students call "Dr. Z," is the instructional leader and is responsible for putting that curriculum into effect.

Every student at Cristo Rey is from a low-income family. That's a requirement, said Gilfeather, who as president is in charge of the overall direction of the school and keeping it solvent.

So how do they afford the $7,750 tuition of a parochial school?

They work for it, Gilfeather said. Every student has a corporate work/study job. The companies where they are employed include MITRE, Raytheon, Lawrence Catholic Academy, Lawrence General Hospital, Lowell General Hospital, Ironstone Farm, New England Biolabs and many others.

Their duties include filing, data entry, coding and serving as receptionists. Some work as nursing assistants.

"They (employers) pay for our services," Gilfeather explained. The students earn more than half of their tuition through their work/study jobs, according to Frank Mele, chief financial officer of the school. The rest comes from donations."

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