By Beth Donze
The Good Shepherd Nativity Mission School, founded in 2001 by the late Jesuit Father Harry Tompson to provide a Catholic education to New Orleans’ most underserved children, will welcome nearly 300 students to its new and expanded Gentilly campus Aug. 21.
The 38,000-square-foot, two-story school building, which rises on a half-block parcel of land bounded by Agriculture Street, New Orleans Street and A.P. Tureaud Avenue, boasts 20 classrooms for STEM-based instruction, a dedicated science/maker space, an art room, a multi-media library and a 200-seat cafeteria-multipurpose center.
Good Shepherd’s new home is more than double the size of its former hub in New Orleans’ Central Business District – a 15,000-square-foot building at 353 Baronne St., whose sale helped fund construction of the new $11.5 million campus.
“We wanted to move to a neighborhood where many of our families lived and a neighborhood that needed what Father Tompson started,” said Thomas Moran, school president, noting that 41 percent of the student body resides in the three adjacent zip codes.
“This neighborhood was largely abandoned when people didn’t come back in droves after the storm,” Moran said. “Well, we’re now saying, ‘It’s OK to be here. We’re here at the very first part of A.P. Tureaud.’ It’s an anchor that says, ‘Come to this neighborhood; move to this neighborhood; start a business in this neighborhood.’”
Entrance leads to atrium
The bottom floor of the sleek new school building, designed by Blitch Knevel Architects and built by main contractor Ryan Gootee General Contractors, is clad in bands of brown and beige brick. Insulated metal paneling punctuates the exterior of the second story, and asymmetrically positioned windows of varying sizes give the interior of each classroom a unique look and ample natural light.
The school’s main entrance at 1839 Agriculture St., marked by a rooftop cross, leads to a soaring octagonal atrium, waiting area, quiet prayer space and offices for staff including a full-time social worker and registered nurse.
A circular mosaic on the atrium’s terrazzo marble floor depicts Good Shepherd’s seal. Other nods to the school’s mission and history will include a bust of Father Tompson and walls honoring school founders and patrons of Good Shepherd’s ongoing “Shepherding Hope” capital campaign.
Large, flexible eating space
Students in pre-K4, kindergarten and first grade will be based on the first floor. Their spacious classrooms feature brightly painted cubbies and adjoining restrooms.
“It is designed so pre-K4 through first grade never have to leave the bottom floor,” Moran said.
A 200-seat cafeteria and adjacent multi-purpose area means that Good Shepherd students no longer will have to eat in three shifts as they did at the CBD location. Flexible seating will allow the space to host various functions, such as school Masses, assemblies, parent-faculty meetings and rainy-day recess, Moran said.
Good Shepherd’s new cafeteria space was designed with the potential to add a commercial kitchen, should enrollment reach the 300-student minimum required by archdiocesan School Food Services for on-site food prep. Until then, meals will continue to be delivered to campus by School Food Services, Moran said.
A mosaic of 250 tiles, painted by members of last year’s student body, eventually will grace a cafeteria wall, he added.
“We asked our students to paint a tile with either a New Orleans or a Good Shepherd theme,” Moran said. “Some (tiles) have something on the saints; some have something on Baronne Street; some have tributes to Father Tompson.”
Reminders of former campus
Adjoining wings on the second level will accommodate Good Shepherd’s oldest grade divisions: grades 2-3; and a middle-school wing for students in grades 4-7.
Classrooms, located off wide, taupe-painted hallways and sporting vinyl composite flooring, have doorway overhangs and accent walls painted in bold hues such as orange, purple and turquoise. White boards, Smart boards and all new furnishings are included in each instructional space.
“All our students will have their own little world in which to learn, based on the age that they are,” Moran said. “It’s almost three schools in one.”
The heart of the second floor will be Good Shepherd’s carpeted library/multi-media center, which will also serve as another site for school Masses. The technology hub will have “a very religious feel,” Moran said, noting the addition of sacred items from the former campus including a painting of the Blessed Mother, the school seal and a large stained glass window depicting Christ saying, “Let the children come to me” from St. Matthew’s Gospel.
The elementary school, founded as a ministry of Immaculate Conception Church in New Orleans, will stay connected to its CBD roots by continuing to celebrate Founders Day, graduation and other special Masses at the Baronne Street church, Moran said.
Expanded outdoor space
Recess and P.E., once confined to a small blacktop at the former campus, will take place on a purchased lot on Agriculture Street, opposite the school’s main entrance. This multi-use area will accommodate a paved, full-length basketball court, playground equipment, a dozen faculty parking spaces and separate green spaces for athletics and an urban garden, Moran said. Younger children will play in an enclosed yard just off their first-floor classrooms, he added.
Another outdoor amenity – a drop-off circle on New Orleans Street – will be another boon for Good Shepherd families who no longer will have to navigate the traffic and parking hurdles of the CBD.
Growing demand spurs move
Although Father Tompson’s intention was to locate his school in the CBD to accommodate families working in the Downtown corridor, the original, eight-classroom school building was becoming cramped as enrollment grew. Last school year, Good Shepherd posted the highest enrollment in its 18-year history: 157 students in grades K-7.
The new campus is enabling the addition of pre-K4 and two sections of each grade level, raising Good Shepherd’s anticipated 2018-19 enrollment to a record 275 students, Moran said. They will learn in classrooms ranging in size from 750 to 1,000 square feet, rather than the 500-square-foot classrooms they had on Baronne.
Good Shepherd’s faculty, now nearly double in size from two years ago, will be able to access kitchen-like storage nooks in their classrooms and a faculty work room in which they can plan lessons, grade student work and answer emails at assigned laptop stations. A separate teachers’ lounge is provided downstairs.
“Our teachers at the old building would do their lesson plans at their classroom desk, at the coffee shop next door or at the cafeteria table,” Moran said. “They are in awe of the space!”
Unique model a success
Father Tompson, who passed away four months before his dream school opened, envisioned a place that would educate urban, low-income children in an environment that nurtured and cared for the mind, body and soul of each child, with tuition costs paid for by benefactors and other community supporters. (All Good Shepherd students qualify for free/reduced lunch and are recipients of the Louisiana Scholarship Program, or “vouchers”).
Good Shepherd’s successful model includes an extended school day and school year; a low student-teacher ratio; parental commitment and involvement; guided assessment and remediation services for students with academic challenges; and support of graduates through their high school and college years.
As a result of this holistic approach, more than 90 percent of Good Shepherd graduates currently are enrolled in college, and several others are in the military or employed in meaningful jobs. In contrast, only 59 percent of low-income children in New Orleans attend college and only 46 percent do nationwide.
“All of our kids have an iPad,” said Moran, noting that the Good Shepherd staff includes math and ELA interventionists who ensure that students’ skills are not only at grade level, but above it.
“Many of our students come to us with achievement gaps, and we have to close those gaps fast,” Moran said. “Our curriculum is designed to do that – it’s very technology-based, very inquiry-based, very STEM-based.”
School leaders also believe the new campus will become another “anchor” in a New Orleans neighborhood that still bears scars from Hurricane Katrina. Moran has offered use of the facility’s meeting spaces to community groups in the A.P. Tureaud neighborhood that advocate for first-time homebuyers, retailers, street paving and other quality-of-life features such as walking paths, urban gardens and green spaces.
“One of the things we’re hoping to do is utilize our proximity to St. Aug, which is just three blocks away, and Dillard University is close to us as well. We’ve got some built-in opportunities there, tutoring of our students,” said Moran, noting the warm welcome The Good Shepherd School has received from neighbors watching the building take shape over the 10-month construction period.
One of those neighbors, third-generation blacksmith Darryl Reeves, already has expressed an interest in collaborating with students on projects connected with his craft.
“(Reeves) is a representation of what the A.P. Tureaud neighborhood has meant to the city over the years as a center of the city’s African-American artisan community,” Moran said. “His family is rooted here. They never left.”
A ribbon-cutting/community celebration featuring student-led tours will be held Sept. 28. The $11.5 million economic development project is being funded by the $3 million sale of the Baronne Street location; $2.4 million in new market tax credits; and more than $4.2 million raised to date through the “Shepherding Hope” capital campaign. The campaign seeks to raise an additional $2-2.5 million so the school does not have to touch its reserves. To contribute or to learn more, visit www.the goodshepherdschool.org, or call Jamie Roy at 598-9399.
The Good Shepherd School participates in the Louisiana Scholarship Program, for which parents must complete the OneApp at enrollnola.org. To learn more about the admission process, email Kaleshe Garrison at kgarrison@thegoodshepherd school.org.
Beth Donze can be reached at email@example.com.