This School Works

Cristo Rey community helps students dream big

By Jessica Laskey
January 2023

When the alarm goes off in the morning, Kate Coulouras has good reason to get out of bed.

“The kids are my purpose,” says Coulouras, in her third year as principal of Cristo Rey High School at Jackson and Florin-Perkins roads.

“These kids work so hard and face obstacles I can’t imagine having to face in high school. Their work ethic is phenomenal. Their families are also fabulous and committed to wanting to learn and support their kids. They’ve made huge sacrifices for them to be able to be here. That really drives me to be creative and solve problems. The students deserve the absolute best education.”

Cristo Rey is a private, Catholic high school that serves low-income students with a combination of traditional college preparatory academics and a work study program that trains for careers in local businesses. The work study piece helps offset tuition, and earned Cristo Rey the moniker “The School that Works.”

“The work study program allows us to exclusively serve kids who come from very low financial circumstances,” says school President Dave Perry. “Families can’t afford to pay $16,000 a year for tuition, so the kids work five days a month in corporate jobs, and that pays about 60 percent of our operating budget.”

Cristo Rey’s Sacramento campus opened in 2006, one of 37 Cristo Rey schools across the country. The local campus has graduated more than 780 students, with 96 percent accepted to colleges and universities.

“Our students have a different mindset when they start college. They have a depth of experience that other kids don’t,” says Perry, who’s been involved in Catholic education since 2008.

For East Sac resident Coulouras, who started at Cristo Rey as a Spanish teacher and moved up the administrative ranks after earning her master’s degree at Notre Dame, the key to success is opportunity.

“Money is great, but the biggest thing is students’ access to resources,” she says. “Students graduate, go to college and then come back to (work in) high-level positions. For example, one of the students who was in the freshman class when I started teaching eight years ago just graduated from Sac State. He had stayed on with his work study site at a law firm through college, then he started working as a paralegal and wants to become an attorney.

“Those connections impact the Sacramento community at large. That’s why we encourage people to get involved, learn more and share the mission.”

Though the pandemic challenged most schools, Cristo Rey was hit exceptionally hard by learning loss. The average Cristo Rey student starts one to two years behind in math and English. With students not able to attend class in person, the learning gap grew.

Thanks to dedicated teachers, staff and administrators, and unprecedented support from parents and the community, the future looks promising.

“The community has always been generous, but the last two years, it’s been off the charts, which is the only reason Cristo Rey survived,” Perry says. The school celebrated its Securing the Dream philanthropic campaign in November, receiving more than $8 million in contributions.

“We’re building a culture of belief in the students, as well as making sure teachers have all the tools they need to help our students be successful. There are a lot of people who don’t know about Cristo Rey, but the more people who do, the brighter our future will be.”

For more information, visit

Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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