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Prep alumni, community gather as one voice with one message

4th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Not even the gloomiest of Saturday mornings could keep generations of Xavier Prep alumni from coming out for a strategic planning meeting on February 23 at Martin Luther King Charter school in the 9th Ward. The venue’s auditorium saw a standing room-only crowd as school President/Principal Joseph Peychaud spoke frankly to former and current students, along with concerned members of the community, regarding the decision of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to close the 98 year old cultural and educational landmark due to financial challenges at the end of the academic year.

“One voice—one message…” Peychaud told attendees on Saturday. “We need to come together as a group to move to the next phase.”

The meeting was prompted by Class of ’92 alum Kimberly Dilosa, after news of the school’s closure spread throughout the community and beyond on February 20.

“If you’re like me, you probably always thought ‘my alma mater will always be here, it’ll never go anywhere’; but I guess it took this to really rattle our cages; because look at this room-look at the numbers in this room. Dilosa said to attendees. “We’re coming together to say there’s no way we’re going to let New Orleans lose an icon—our icon. Not only do we owe this to people who graduated a long time before us, but we owe it to little girls who are looking forward to going to Xavier Prep in the future.”

Over 600 people attended, according to Dilosa, and she states the meeting was organized out of sheer love and adoration for Xavier Prep and the memories she has of attending her alma mater.

“I want my daughter to attend my alma mater, and I just can’t comprehend it closing,” she states. “The thought of that makes me physically weak. The goal of organizing the citywide meeting was to rattle the cages of the alumni, rally the troops then organize that energy to raise funds to continue the legacy of Xavier Prep.”

A general conference call took place simultaneously with the meeting for out-of-state alumni, and there was also conversation held on twitter, to allow questions and ideas to be shared via social media. A group of alumni in the Houston area have also planned a meeting in early March to show their support.

“I want the thank the countless number of Prep alumni, who have called from as far as Kuwait, Germany, Alaska—to say we are all definitely in this fight to save Xavier Prep,” Dilosa told attendees.

Jan Lancaster, New Orleans Archdiocese Superintendent, attended the meeting to offer her support and that of the Archdiocese.

“This came to a shock to us,” she told the audience. “I know what I’m feeling; I can’t imagine what you’re feeling. I didn’t walk those halls as a student. This is a great loss to the community; a great loss to the future children that need to go to Xavier Prep and want to go to Xavier Prep. We have to come up with some creative solutions to move Xavier forward.”

The school has operated independently from the archdiocesan school system, and as noted in last week’s statement from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, assistance from the Archdiocese was offered, but respectfully declined by the SBS.

Peychaud thanked parents, school administration and students for their understanding.

“This is a life lesson,” he stated. “We have to figure out how to handle it and how to move forward.”

And to do so, a vast effort from all members of the Prep family will be needed to help keep the doors open.

“I hope you all are ready to work, because we have a lot of fighting to do and a lot of money to raise in very short period of time.” Dilosa told the audience.

As a result of the decision of the SBS, two options were given to Peychaud and his administration. One is an outright purchase of the Magazine Street property and the second; being a lease-to-own agreement. Looking at the fair market (real estate) value of the uptown area, Peychaud estimates the purchase of the building would likely be between $5 and $6 million dollars.

He also explained the Archbishop’s expectations of the types of school preferred within the diocese: Congregationally owned or under the auspices of the Archdiocese of New Orleans; with the latter being the more practical option.

In talks of lease-to-purchase, a viable financial/ cash flow projection is necessary, which may lead to an increase in current tuition and fees.

“In order to realistically lease to own the property at 5116 Magazine, we need financial resources. That’s the bottom line,” Peychaud told the audience. “We need everyone to focus on how can we get together and concentrate on raising funds.”

Many ideas were brought to that table. Various alumni bought forth suggestions, including an array of fundraising ideas, the possibility of Xavier Prep operating as a charter school, the option of another location in the city and also the idea of returning to a co-ed student body.

“I think the administration should get information together of exactly how much money Prep needs to survive and (a group) should reach out to a philanthropist—particularly in the entertainment business.” Stephanie Roché Butler, Class of ’64 stated.

She also called on alumni to show potential investors that they are willing to contribute as well.

“I’d like to see all alumni pledge a certain amount of money, to show that we’re not just sitting here with our hands out, that we are also working hard to raise money for our school and our children.”

Peychaud, while weighing the pros and cons of all that was brought to the table February 23, stated any creative ideas and suggestions would be considered and discussed.

Whatever decision is made, he states that a concise plan including an operating budget that would prove effective long term, and not just for the immediate future must be developed.

Another concern of Peychaud is parents who now must face the dilemma of looking into placing their daughters in another school for the next academic year.
“I can’t ask them to hold on and hold on, and lose that option. However, several schools have called me and indicated that they will have spots; but that window is going to close at some time.”

“I have 245 girls that we have to consider. That’s always been our primary focus,” he added.

The school’s student body president spoke proudly of her experience as a Prepper and what is has meant to her to be a part of the Xavier Prep family.

“We have a tremendous legacy, and our school means so much to men and women all over the country,” Nadja Lanaux told those in attendance. “We are prepared to go to war, to do what it takes to prevent The Prep from closing its doors for good. I don’t want to be a part of the last graduating class of Prep.”

Joseph Peychaud told the crowd, as Lanaux left the stage; “Now you understand, now you see- and I think that’s where the energy and the focus has to be. In order to do that, we have to understand where we are. I’m not going back; I’m not getting into negative conversations. I’m going to exercise my energy and focus on what we do now, based on the options we have or any creative options that are put before us.”

Those in attendance to show support included several graduates from St. Augustine High School.

Joe Marion, a member of the St Aug Class of 1963, has three sisters, all whom are Prep graduates.

Marion touched base on the unity shown amid the three area African-American high schools (St. Aug, Xavier Prep and St. Mary’s Academy) immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

“I want to thank Xavier Prep for reaching out to us, after the storm,” he said. ‘We’ve (my sisters and me) already written checks to help. Let me know what else we need to do to help.”

As a result of the February 23 meeting, the Xavier Prep Foundation Fund has been established, along with a new website and Jameel Shaheer; a Prep parent and St. Augustine alum (who owns a screen printing company) has designed T-shirts to be purchased; with all proceeds to be donated to helping the doors of Xavier Prep remain open for his daughter and other young ladies to follow.

“I feel that it is time for action,” St. Aug grad and (step father of a Prep graduate) Roger Barnes stated.

“We as a city have been blessed to feel the impact of a fine learning institution such as Xavier Prep- this pillar of education and discipline, which is known for producing proud, well-educated, and well-respected members of society.”

The annual Remember When fundraiser, hosted by noted vocalist and Prep alum Wanda Rouzan has found a renewed sprit as alumni were pleased to hear the event will take place on April 6.

Donations are asked to be sent to the XUP Foundation Fund, P.O. Box 19112. New Orleans, LA 70179-9112.

To find out more about upcoming fundraising events and development plans for Xavier Prep, visit www.xavierprepfoundationfund.com or follow the movement on twitter @SaveThePrepFund.

This article originally published in the March 4, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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