Parents blindsided by closing of St. Nicholas Learning Center

Sts. Peter and Paul nearly $1 million in debt 

By Ruthann Carr

They had no idea.  

About 30 families who rely on St. Nicholas Learning Center to teach their children found out May 8 the school would close on May 24.  

Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President Christy Lynn Beck said the announcement took them all by surprise. 

According to a letter from Father Gerald Musuubire, the priest at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church under which the school operates, the Diocese of Richmond decided to close the school because of financial troubles. 

“It has become apparent that the sustainability of the Learning Center is no longer an option for our parish,” Musuubire stated in the letter. “Regrettably St. Nicholas Learning Center will close May 24.” 

Musuubire did not respond to a phone call and email request for an interview.  

More time 

Beck said when she read the letter she jumped into action and asked for a meeting. 

The diocese appointed Deacon Robert Griffin as the church’s temporary business manager.  

Griffin and Musuubire met with parents May 9.  

Griffin heard how passionate we were, the drive we had, and called the diocese and requested they come hear our families out,” Beck said.  

Five members from the diocese met with parents the next night and agreed to push the school closing back to June 28.  

During that meeting Beck heard the financial troubles had been going on for a while. The parents, however, were kept in the dark, she said.  

“They were just as much dumbfounded as we were that the information they were giving the school wasn’t being relayed to us,” Beck said. “I believe they did instruct the leaders of the school to instruct us about what was going on.” 


In a letter to the parish dated May 12, Musuubire got specific, stating Sts. Peter and Paul was $950,000 in debt.  

Pam Dempsey helped Musuubire start the school in 2015. Dempsey was in charge of curriculum, instruction and the school’s finances.  

Dempsey was fired May 8. 

When contacted, Dempsey said she did not want to speak on the record except to urge people to pray for the church, school, teachers, parents and students.  

Beck didn’t put the blame entirely on Dempsey. 

“Father Gerald knew everything Pam did. He was cc’d on every email and letter we got,” Beck said. 

The Richmond Diocese is led by Bishop Barry C. Nestout. Sts. Peter and Paul operates under the direction of the Richmond Diocese. The diocese has authority over the school as well.  

Griffin responded to an email containing several questions about the school closing with the following statement from the diocese: 

“Any time we have to discontinue a program that promotes and upholds the teachings of the Catholic Church, in this case St. Nicholas Learning Center, is never a good day for the parish community. After years of operating deficits, this decision was necessary. Our immediate focus is to ensure the financial viability of the parish. A diocesan representative, Deacon Bob Griffin, is working closely with the pastor and the parish finance council to develop a concrete plan so the parish can meet its day-to-day financial obligations. 

“We understand and share in the disappointment this challenge and hardship may cause for the school’s parents and surrounding community. At the request of parents, we have extended the closing date of the school to June 28. Between now and that date, another review of this decision will take place. We hope to one day reopen the center. 

“Right now, our attention is centered on how we can move the parish forward. Our energies are to ensure sustainability of Sts. Peter and Paul for future generations, so they may encounter the Gospel message, share our faith in charity and care for the marginalized and poor within our surrounding community.” 

Hope for the future 

Beck said since becoming PTO president, she’s focused on fundraising for and attracting more students to the school. 

“We knew the school needed more students last fall because we had a bunch of students leave,” she said. 

The school has classes from prekindergarten for 2-year-olds through second grade.  

“We’d been building back up. We had students signed up for summer and fall and thought we were on track to break even. Nine more students were coming in the fall. We had money coming in from fundraisers,” Beck said. 

Beck hopes the diocese gives families and teachers the opportunity ty to help the school flourish and thrive and “to be stronger and better than ever and to continue to see children’s lives changed.” 

Everyday miracles 

A few years ago Wendy Edwards and her husband, Robert, decided to become foster parents. Soon after they took in four siblings. They are in the process of adopting all four. 

 The children had all suffered trauma.  

“When my kids came to me they didn’t even know their own names,” Edwards said. “We get intensive in-home care for all four. Each has specific needs and some schools can’t meet that need. My 3-year-old has anger issues.”  

The school she attended sent Edwards’ 3-year-old home daily, until they finally said it wasn’t a good fit,” she said.  

Edwards knew Dempsey and decided to check out St. Nicholas.  

“I went on a tour with my 3 and 5year-olds and when we walked into the classroom it was like walking into a massage room – there was soft lighting and the environment was quiet.”  

Edwards said the students were having fun, but “it wasn’t so stimulating that kids were wiredThey have a warm, comforting, no-drama discipline policy. It’s a loving form of discipline.”  

Edwards said both of her children wanted to stay; however, her 3-year-old had a bit of a hard time when Edwards started to leave.  

“The teacher took her hand and said: ‘You are safe. You are loved and you’re going to have a good day.’” 

Even though her three youngest children have only attended St. Nicholas for about three months, Edwards sees positive change.  

“They come home happy, filled. They’re not thirsty for something. The environment has been very healthy for them and me,” she said. 

Edwards said her 3-year-old often bullies her 2-year-old brother. If someone comes to the door at home, he likes to run and get it. His sister, however, routinely pushes him out of the way and beats him to it. 

“Just the other day someone came to the door and they both ran to it,” she said. “Then my 3-year-old stopped, took her brother’s hand and said, ‘Let’s do it together.’”  

On one recent night, her 2-year-old son was spelling his name.  

“He couldn’t write it, but he knew how to spell it,” she said. “That’s just an example of the nurturing environment [at St. Nicholas]. Every day they learn something new. I feel like we see real miracles with these kids. It’s a different environment. The discipline is so loving they have the kids communicate with each other, hear each other. It makes such a difference in how they communicate at home.” 

Edwards said she believes Dempsey is a good part of the reason why the school is a successful educational environment. 

“I’m hoping the school will stay open and I’m hoping they’ll re-instate Pam. But if not, that they’ll bring in someone who embraces the same values and discipline as she did.”  

St. Nicholas is a Harvard Project Zero school. According to the website, Project Zero focuses onunderstanding learning in and through the arts.”  

Beck said anyone interested in joining the school in the fall, or looking to comment on how St. Nicholas helped them in the past, should email Griffin at 

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