Sitting attentively among other parents in St. Matthias High School’s gymnasium, Judith Pérez could not contain her joy.“Now, they [the female students] will want to stay in school for longer hours,” she said after listening to the Aug. 21 announcement that, starting in academic year 2013-2014, the all-girls’ Downey school will gradually become a co-educational institution under the new name St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy.Pérez welcomed the decision because, she said, “All, boys and girls, no matter where they come from, have the right to have a faith-based education.”A librarian’s assistant at a Lynwood public middle school, Pérez is very happy with the education the girls receive at St. Matthias, where they “learn to grow next to Christ.” With financial assistance, Pérez’s four children are attending or have attended Catholic schools. One graduated from St. Matthias two years ago, another just started her junior year, and two are already in college — something that could only have happened, the St. Lawrence of Brindisi (Compton) parishioner said, with the support of the Catholic community.‘This is your school’“When I see your kids, I see mine,” St. Matthias principal Erick Rubalcava told the mostly Spanish-speaking parents at the August meeting. The former Junípero Serra High School principal — who has served as president of both campuses for the last two years — stressed that the new academy will continue building up its college-preparatory curriculum.And he invited parents to get involved in their children’s education and in offering ideas to better meet the families’ needs. “This is the steppingstone for your children to get where you want them to go,” he told the parents. “This is your school and leadership opportunities are huge.”The Downey campus opened in 1953 as a co-educational high school under the name of Pius X. St. Matthias High School opened in 1960 as a parish high school near St. Matthias Church in Huntington Park. In 1995, the schools were consolidated as all-girls’ St. Matthias High on Piux X’s Downey campus.In 2010, facing financial challenges, St. Matthias became part of a collaborative model with Serra, led by Rubalcava and a business manager. The schools had separate principals but shared resources. With an enrollment of more than 280, most of St. Matthias’ 19-acre campus has not been used during the past two years, said officials. With the St. Matthias board’s approval, studies were conducted by the school and Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Catholic Education. Results pointed towards the need of a gradual transformation of the school into a co-educational institution.“The administration is passionate and I saw the potential — beautiful campus, a lot of space — but as a business prospect it looked like it was underutilized,” said board chair John Smith. “It will be a lot of work, but as enrollment increases we can hire more teachers, add Advanced Placement classes, and more.” Rubalcava said the goal is to double the student body to reach an enrollment of about 500 between 2018 and 2020. With increased enrollment, he said, the school will be able to expand its Advanced Placement program that prepares students to qualify for the University of California system.With the new model, tuition will increase more than three percent. Those families unable to afford it will have opportunity to apply for financial assistance from the Catholic Education Foundation or other sources, including alumni sponsorships.“We’re here to stay, we’re not going anywhere,” Rubalcava told the parents, whom he called “pioneers.” He invited the students to submit ideas for a mascot, adding that the athletic program will improve gradually and the uniform will change.“It’s about trying new things, new models — innovating rather than closing schools,” Msgr. Sabato Pilato, archdiocesan superintendent of high schools, told The Tidings.For more information about St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy, call marketing director Keani Romero at (562) 861-2271, extension 1015, or visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0928/spmatthias/{/gallery}