The legacy of Xavier Prep to continue with new name
29th April 2013 · 0 Comments
By Kelly Parker
Those familiar with the auditorium on the campus of Xavier Prep known as the Drexel Center know of its special meaning; as it’s served as the setting for countless ceremonies, gatherings, fundraising galas, and school dances. It was only fitting for the Drexel Center to be the locale for the introduction of the new era of the 98-year-old school for young African-American women.
On Monday evening, it was announced to parents, students, alumni and members of the community that St. Katherine Drexel’s legacy will continue after all. The nearly century-old high school’s doors will remain open and will be renamed St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory High School, beginning next school year.
“Our prayers have been answered.” Orleans Parish Clerk of Civil District Court, Dale Atkins, and member of the Xavier Prep class of 1976 told those in attendance.
The new school will be an independent Catholic school, under the support of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
In late February, the news of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacraments’ decision to close the high school sent not only shock, but sadness throughout the Xavier Prep community and beyond.
Atkins is part of the non-profit group 5116 Magazine St. Preparatory High School Corp?oration; which consists of six alumni: Judges Piper Griffin, Edwin Lombard and Karen Wells Roby; along with attorneys Keith Doby and Shantell Payton.
The group negotiated an agreement with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to purchase the uptown property, with the financial assistance of First NBC, whom Atkins thanked for their support and recognition of the historical significance of Xavier Prep.
“First NBC did finance the purchase. The (5116 Magazine Street Group) did not use any money collected by the (Xavier Prep foundation) or (Xavier Prep Alumni Association) to purchase the property,” Atkins stated to The Louisiana Weekly. “It’s strictly a bank financed real estate transaction.”
“We were deeply saddened to learn that the SBS decided to close Xavier Prep; however, we were also very grateful to the leadership for giving us the opportunity to acquire the school property,” Karen Wells Roby stated. “Although the sisters will have no affiliation with the new school, we, the alumni who benefited so greatly from their guidance, appreciate the legacy they leave behind.”
“There will be an agreement to purchase 5116 Magazine St. There will be a real estate plan that will serve as the basis for opening a new school to carry on the tradition of St. Katherine Drexel at this location for the 2013-2014 school year,” the group’s attorney Fred Herman, who was also in attendance, said.
The announcement prompted a standing ovation from the audience.
“This is a three-step process,” he added. “We have reached an agreement in principal, which will be finalized this week. We need your prayers, and continued support, because we have a ways to go. The goal is to have everything finalized by July 1.”
“Our goal was to purchase the property, and to reassure parents, students and alumni that we have an all-girls school to operate for the 2013-2014 school year. The new school’s mission is to continue to fulfill the vision of St. Katherine Drexel,” Atkins told the audience.
“The challenge to achieve our goal was great, the time was short and the emotions were unspeakable” Atkins added. “But we know that accomplished this goal because the Prep family came together, and attacked the challenge; this was a collective effort.”
At Monday evening’s meeting, Atkins recognized the Xavier Prep Foundation and the school’s Alumni Association for their efforts. “We couldn’t do this by ourselves,” she said.
The highlight of the evening came with the unveiling of the new banner, displaying a photograph of the school’s foundress and the new name; which brought cheers and tears from some in attendance.
“When the banner was shown, I was actually in tears,” Kim Calvin Chinn told The Louisiana Weekly. “I’m just so pleased that the school isn’t closing, and I’m very excited about the new name, I couldn’t think of anything better.”
The school’s colors and uniform will not change. The school is also holding a contest to design a new school logo; in which the winner will receive an iPad.
Karen Wells Roby informed the audience that parents will see a modest increase in school tuition, while stating the school is below the cost of average in cost amongst area Catholic schools. Total tuition costs were stated to parents: $6,550 (including tuition and student fees) for 7th- and 8th-grade students and $8,550 (total costs) for 9th- through 12th-grade students.
Most parents in the audience saw an increase in school tuition as a given.
“As we go through this transition, I didn’t expect it the stay the same and I’m fine with that,” Kim Calvin-Chinn said. “It saves me from sending (my daughter Kalin) to another school and possibly paying (increased tuition) there. I’d rather support Xavier Prep.”
The news has special meaning for Chinn; the 1987 Prep graduate looks forward to her daughter Kalin being part of the first class to graduate as St. Katherine Drexel Prep students next year.
“This is historical,” she says. “And it’s such a privilege to be a part of this. We never lost hope that the school would remain open.
“I’m just really excited that I get to graduate from the school with my class; and we’ll all still be together. And I really like the name of the new school.” Prep junior Kalin Chinn stated.
The school’s president, Joseph Peychaud, also succumbed to the special moment.
“This has been a long journey, a tough journey,” he told the audience. “But it has been a journey that we’ve had together; we’ve persevered, we’ve kept the dream alive. I’m really, really overwhelmed. I usually tell the kids don’t get emotional, but I’m feeling it now-that’s because this is such a special place and it remains a special place.”
Peychaud thanked the school administration and all support groups, but showed heartfelt appreciation to parents and students.
“The students have not lost direction. They continue to make us proud. Our parents stayed the course, they trusted and believed-that’s what this intuition is about- that’s what it’s always been about.”
Kalin Chinn, despite the uncertainty of her high school future, did not lose focus academically.
“She made the honor roll,” her mother says.
Junior Kristen Jackson, who’s looking forward to the new start, didn’t allow the distraction to affect her grades.
“My grades improved,” she said. “(All that was going on) actually made me work harder. “I was just so happy to tell my mother the news. This has been exciting and overwhelming.”
The new era of St. Katherine Drexel Preparatory High School will include a curriculum more intensely focused in the areas of math and science.
Keith Doby stated in a WWL-TV interview last week that the plan is to “think outside the box”—envisioning St. Katherine Drexel Prep as a feeder school to Xavier University, which places more African-American students in medical school than any other university in the country.
“For the most part, the feedback from parents, students and alumni has been very positive, Atkins told The Louisiana Weekly. “Even though we won’t the same name, what makes Xavier Prep has been saved—the mission of St. Katherine Drexel, the spirit of giving back to our community and providing young African-American women with a quality Catholic-based education.
“It saddens me that we couldn’t use the name Xavier Prep and we may never know the true reason why we couldn’t use it, but I am thankful that the school will remain open. There’s one thing that can’t be taken from us—The Spirit!” Gilda Jones, a member of the Xavier Prep class of 1976 said.
“We could not keep the name for legal reasons,” Atkins explained. “Xavier University Preparatory is a corporation, the owners being the SBS. That is their name.”
“I’m a little sad that we have to part with the name ‘Xavier Prep,’ but I’m excited that we will be able to keep the doors open,” class of 1987 alum Natascha Veal-Roy says. “The new name does pay homage to our founder, St. Katharine Drexel. Once a Prepper, Always a Prepper.”
Karen Morris Thibodeaux, a member of the class of 1985, despite the name change, is relieved the doors of her alma mater will not close.
“I am ecstatic that the school will remain open,” she says. “We’re not just a name, we are a legacy. It’s about the sisterhood; the love and spirit of the school; therefore, the legacy of St. Katherine Drexel lives on though this school. This is what matters.”
To the delight of the audience, the meeting concluded with the introduction of future members of the sisterhood: six of the eight students from area middle schools, who have already registered to enroll in the next 7th-grade class; proving the torch of service and education will be passed to a new group of bearers.
“..And all of their parents are Preppers,” Dale Atkins said proudly.
This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.