The Good Shepherd Nativity Mission School, the CBD-based elementary school established by the late Jesuit Father Harry Tompson to provide a Catholic education to the city’s most underserved children, will relocate to a new campus in Gentilly at the start of the 2018-19 school year.
The planned two-story school, to rise on the corner of Agriculture Street and A.P. Tureaud Avenue, will boast nearly 38,000 square feet of space to accommodate large classrooms for STEM-based instruction, a library, a dedicated art room, a cafeteria and an enclosed play yard.
Good Shepherd purchased the site, the former headquarters of Gallo Mechanical, last May. Its city block of warehouses will be demolished to make way for the new structure.
Contracts for the project were signed last month with general contractor, Ryan Gootee Construction, and Blitch Knevel Architects, which designed the brick and insulated metal panel building in a sleek modern style.
“We have a chance now to move to the Gentilly area, where 40 percent of our kids live,” said Ronald Briggs, co-chair of the ongoing $4 million capital campaign launched in anticipation of the relocation. “We’ve been at capacity for at least three years,” Briggs added. “We knew we had to get out of our current building, that the demand was greater than we could fill.”
Changing needs spur move
Although Father Tompson’s original intent was to locate his school in the CBD, where service-industry workers could drop their kids off and pick them up after work, the school’s success since its 2001 opening has led to cramped quarters for both students and staff. This school year, Good Shepherd posted the highest enrollment in its 16-year history: 105 students in grades K-7.
“When we set this school up, there was no full-time social worker; there was no full-time graduate support person. We didn’t need it at that time,” Briggs said.
The current three-story, 15,000-square-foot school, located at 353 Baronne St., contains eight modest-sized classrooms, a small suite of offices and a library. A walk-through area on the first-floor stretches the idea of “multi-purpose room” to the max, doing quadruple duty as a cafeteria, meeting space, Mass site and indoor recess area in inclement weather.
“We eat in three shifts now because we only have space for 30 kids at a time,” said Thomas Moran, Good Shepherd’s president. “The cafeteria space (in the new building) will enable us to also have gatherings there. A lot of rooms in the new building are being designed to have multiple functions.”
The school’s future cafeteria has been designed with the potential to add a full-service kitchen, should enrollment reach the 250-student minimum required by archdiocesan School Food Services for on-site food prep.
“And we will (finally) have room to spread out in the classrooms,” Moran said. “We are constricted by space here (on Baronne Street). Our classrooms are just 500 square feet; they are tiny.”
Parking, always headache-inducing in the CBD, will be no problem at the new campus, and drop-off and pick-up will be safe and efficient, with no need for students to cross a busy street or for parents to fear being ticketed.
Also, no longer will students’ outdoor play be confined to a small blacktop,” Moran said.
“Our kids will have the opportunity to run free,” Moran said, describing the future campus’ grass yard for P.E. and sports, with nearby space available to construct a gym.
Low-stress school commute
But it is its location, in the 1800 block of Agriculture Street, that is of particular excitement to Moran. With nearly half of his student body residing in the new school’s three adjacent zip codes, Moran foresees adding additional classes of grades in the years to come.
“In that neighborhood, there are people who are starved for what we provide,” Moran said, predicting that the new campus will become “an anchor” in a neighborhood that still bears scars from Hurricane Katrina.
“Parents, kids, the community all can come to our facility.” Moran said. “It becomes more than just where kids learn – there are the functions that we will be able to have at night, the community activities. It will become part of the fabric of the community,” he said, adding that the site is still close enough to the CBD to fulfill the original wishes of its founder.
“For a person in the service industry who works at one of the hotels, it’s a 10-minute drive,” Moran said. “They can drop their children off at 7:15 for breakfast and complete their workday without any worries about being late to pick them up at 5 p.m.”
Unique model works well
Father Tompson, who died four months before the opening of Good Shepherd School, envisioned a facility that would serve and educate urban, low-income children in an environment that nurtured and cared for the mind, body and soul of each child – all paid for through benefactors and community supporters.
All Good Shepherd students qualify for free/reduced lunch and are recipients of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (vouchers).
The model includes an extended school day (7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.); an extended school year, featuring a six-week summer semester; a low student-teacher ratio; family programming to reinforce commitment, involvement and development; guided assessment and remediation services for students with academic challenges; and tracking of and support for graduates through their high school and college years.
Some 96 percent of Good Shepherd graduates are currently enrolled in college. In contrast, college enrollment for low-income children is 46 percent nationwide, and 59 percent in New Orleans.
The school’s staff includes math and ELA interventionists who ensure students’ skills are not only at grade level, but above it, Moran said.
“All of our kids have an iPad,” he said. “Our current kindergartners and first graders are already achieving at second- and third-grade skill levels with the new curriculum that we’ve put in. It’s very much technology based; it’s very inquiry based and very STEM based.”
In addition to graduates’ academic success is their well-roundedness, Briggs notes. The school was founded as a ministry of Immaculate Conception Church and will continue to nurture those connections when it moves to Gentilly.
“When our kids leave Good Shepherd School, they not only have received a good education, but they really have been trained to be people for others,” Briggs said.
Moran said Good Shepherd is a place where students “see the face of Jesus” in their teachers, and a school where they can feel safe, loved and successful.
“It doesn’t matter what building that (loving education) takes place in,” Moran said. “That same feeling of community, that same sense of mission will be anywhere we go.”
A capital campaign launched for the school’s new campus has raised more than half of its $4 million goal. For more information, visit www.thegoodshep herd school.org, or call Jamie Roy in the Development Office at 598-9399.
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.