building one day last week, wearing practical black round-toed shoes and thin-rimmed glasses, he washardly the picture of a superstar. But the parents meeting him at the office shook his hand vigorously andgushed shamelessly. "Here's the celebrity," said one.They had reason to gush. In 2001, the number of Cristo Rey schools grew to two, then three and four andthen suddenly ten in 2004. This past fall there were 12, all in urban areas, all solely for kids from thebottom rungs of the income scale. There were almost 3,000 students at Cristo Rey schools this past fall.The opening of the Baltimore school is part of an expansion this year to 19 schools that also includes one inWashington.In urban areas where schools - public, private and charter - are often starved for funds, Foley seems to havehit on something special. How, in areas of overwhelming poverty, high levels of crime and sinkinggraduation rates, have these schools succeeded?Foley attributes the model's success to the "mission-minded" people who staff the schools, as well as thesmall-group environment and rigorous academic and work program of the school.Most uniquely, the work-study business model has allowed each of the high schools to be nearly self-sustaining. "The biggest benefactors are our students," said Foley. And it's true - the goal is that at eachschool, student wages will bring in 70 percent of the operating budget. The remainder comes from donors,including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and student tuition, which ranges from $250 to $2,500,depending on a student's economic situation.Has Cristo Rey discovered a feasible and sustainable way to provide a college-prep education for urbankids?Private schools have traditionally been used as escapes in areas where public schools battle with poorstudent behavior, low test scores and budget issues. Private schools often offer smaller, more focusedenvironments.But the average freshman-year tuition at a Catholic school is $6,906, according to the National CatholicEducational Association. In Baltimore, tuition can cost thousands more, a steep price in a city with amedian household income of $30,078, according to the 2000 census. For many parents, private school justisn't an option, even with scholarships.As a result, declining enrollment has plagued urban Catholic schools because they are mostly tuition-driven."When you have escalating costs and when you have the only basic resource as tuition, you have theperennial problem of, `How do you keep tuition down?' and at the same time, `How do you reach the coststhat it takes to educate a child?'" said Ronald Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools in Baltimore.Since 2000, the city has lost four Catholic elementary schools and a high school. In other cities, the numberof closings has been more dramatic. The 12 largest dioceses in urban areas (Baltimore is not included inthis number), have seen an 18.5 percent decline in enrollment, compared with a 15 percent enrollment dropnationwide, according to the United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2006-2007, anannual school enrollment report."We want to maintain the presence of Catholic education in the city, but it must be delivered in a differentway than years ago," Valenti toldThe Sun in 2005 when one of Baltimore's parish schools combined withtwo others. This is still the case, he said recently. "It's a continued Herculean task that you have to dealwith."