Annunciation’s attempt to keep an 8th grade fails

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

Annunciation Catholic School’s upcoming 75th anniversary year will be its last with an eighth grade as its second appeal has been denied.

Staff, parents and students are now preparing for the change.

A new, unified grade structure for the more than 80 Catholic schools falling within the Archdiocese of New Orleans was one part of a strategic plan developed over the course of three years.

In working on the strategic plan, the archdiocese found there was discrepancy in the grade configuration in the Catholic schools. So the word was handed down that schools will have to fit themselves into one of three models by the 2015-16 school year: pre-K through seventh grade, eighth through 12th grade or kindergarten through 12th grade.

A total of 37 archdiocese schools do not fall within those uniform grade configurations and have to either add or phase out some grades.

Annunciation, which offers pre-K through eighth grade, is one of the schools that has to reconfigure.

ACS will have an eighth grade for the last time next year, and the school will house pre-K through seventh-grade classes beginning in 2015-16.

Annunciation Principal Veda Matthews said ACS will celebrate its 75th anniversary in September, and the school has had eighth grade since it opened. She said she attended the school and went through eighth grade there, and generations or other people have as well.

About half the children who go through the school go on to attend Catholic high schools, while the others go on to a local public or private school, most often Franklinton High, Bowling Green or Ben’s Ford Christian School, Matthews said.

St. Scholastica Academy and St. Paul’s School in Covington have started at eighth grade for many years. Matthews said the students moving on to those schools have traditionally left Annunciation after seventh grade so they can start at the same time as their new classmates.

But students who go on to Pope John Paul II High School in Slidell have been staying at ACS through eighth grade, as PJP II currently starts at ninth grade. But that school will have to add eighth grade in 2015-16.

The trend at Annunciation is different than at the Catholic schools in New Orleans, where the vast majority of elementary students go on to attend Catholic high schools, Matthews said.

Losing eighth grade means one less year of Catholic education will be available to the Annunciation students who go on to public school, she said.

ACS has 158 pre-K 3 through eighth-grade students and one section of each grade, which Matthews said creates a family-like atmosphere. She said eighth grade, generally a small group, has seven students this year.

Matthews said the school had hoped it would be able to keep its current grade configuration since it is the only Catholic school in Washington Parish. Its request for an exemption was denied, though, and the school received notification Thursday that a second appeal had failed as well.

In a statement posted on its website, the archdiocese said the only exemptions granted were for elementary schools not able to include a preschool level on their campus.

Matthews said parents have expressed disappointment about the school losing its eighth grade. In fact, she said, many report they would like the school to go through 12th grade.

“Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll be able to do that, but at this point we’re just going to have to end in seventh,” she said.

ACS third-grade teacher Shelby Temples has two children attending the school, a first-grader and a sixth-grader. She said they love going to Annunciation.

She has concerns associated with the grade configuration change. The main one, she said, is the age difference, as she doesn’t think 13-year-olds should be on a high school campus with 18-year-olds.

She said she has been considering where her sixth-grader, Colton Temples, will go for eighth grade and is leaning toward Pope John Paul II.

“It’s just going to be a concern with him having to travel a year before we’d planned,” she said.

Michael Loper has three children at the school, sixth-grader Blake, third-grader Presleigh and pre-K 3 student Luke.

He said he and his wife, Bogalusa High teacher Cole Loper, try to be involved as much as they can, and he coaches basketball and flag football at the school.

Loper said he thinks the loss of eighth grade will be a negative for the school, but he respects the archdiocese’s decision and recognizes that ACS students will have to leave the school eventually.

One of the potential problems with the change, though, is that it might take more than just eighth-graders away from the school, he said. In families that have two students close in age, parents might move both children at the same time for the convenience of having them in one place, he noted.

He said he is not sure yet where his children will be going for eighth grade, but it will definitely be another Catholic school.

“We’ll stay there as long as Annunciation will let us. I don’t know what we’ll do after that,” he said.