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Xavier Prep alumni, supporters rally to keep historic school open

25th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

Xavier University Preparatory School teachers, administrators, students alumni and supporters said they were blindsided last week by news that said the 98-year-old uptown New Orleans institution may soon be history.

The all-girls Catholic school which currently has 250 students is slated to close at the end of the school year.

The-Prep-022513The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament released a statement Wednesday saying the school “does not have a financially sustainable future,” but shared few other details.

“After much prayer and deliberation, it is with very heavy hearts that the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament have come to this decision,” Sister Patricia Suchalski, S.B.S., President, wrote. “The Sisters have informed faculty and staff, as well as families of students, about the closure.

“The Board of Directors, the School Administration, and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament worked tirelessly to meet the financial challenges facing the Prep, but after reviewing the financial projections for the 2013-14 school year, the Sisters concluded that the Prep does not have a financially sustainable future.

“Xavier Prep has a tremendous 98-year history in New Orleans forming the lives of countless young students who have gone on to success in every arena. The Sisters deeply regret that their decision could not be different, but due to the realities of their congregation’s limited resources and those of the Prep, no other decision was possible.”

“Xavier Prep is thankful to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for their leadership in directing our school for 98 years,” school officials said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “While our hearts are heavy with this news, the academic success of our students remains our #1 priority and we are certain that for them, the best is yet to come.

“We remain committed to the students and families of Xavier Prep and will work with the Archdiocese of New Orleans to help all students transition to new schools, if need be.

“We know that God walks with us during these difficult times and we are thankful to all of the Prep alumni, family, and friends who continue to lift us up in prayer.”

Xavier Prep was founded by St. Katharine Drexel in 1915. Located at 5116 Magazine Street, it occupies a historic landmark that was once the site of Southern University before the historically Black college moved its main campus to Baton Rouge, La. It was originally a co-ed school but became an all-girls institution in 1970. According to the school’s website, 95 percent of its graduates have gone on to attend college in recent years and one-third of its graduates receive college scholarships. It is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Louisiana State Department of Education.

Xavier Prep’s long list of notable alumni includes Sybil Haydel Morial, Wanda Rouzan and former first lady Mickey Barthelemy. The city’s first Black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, attended Xavier Prep but ultimately left the school and graduated from McDonogh #35 Senior High School.

Although Xavier Prep has no official ties to Xavier University, both institutions were founded by St. Katharine Drexel and offer a quality education to young Black people in New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina, the uptown campus which did not suffer flood damage took in students from St. Mary’s Academy and St. Augustine High School, forming a temporary school called “The MAX” which opened in January 2006.

The announcement of its closing sent shockwaves across the city and nation as proud Xavier Prep alumni expressed their disbelief and disappointment about the possible closing of their high school alma mater.

Kimberly Dilosa, a 1992 Xavier Prep alum, told the local daily paper that the news came as a shock to her system. “I got physically ill last night,” she said. “I got nauseous. I threw up. I cried.”

“My father graduated from here, my mother graduated from here, my aunts and uncles, and then I came to continue — and now I have a daughter that wants to come here, but she may not have the opportunity to even come,” Crystal Guillemet-Williams, a 1992 graduate, told WWL-TV Thursday.

The news comes on the heels of an announcement from the Archdiocese of New Orleans that said Cathedral Academy, a school that serves low-income students will likely close at the end of the school year.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Jan Lancaster, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, released a joint statement that expressed disappointment and surprise that the school is slated to close.

It says in part that while Xavier Prep “is not owned or operated by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, we did offer financial resources to the Sisters, but the Sisters, while grateful, declined our offer.”

“It shouldn’t even be about the money,” Aisha Bass, a member of the Class of 1994, told WWL-TV. “It should be about continuing to educate our young girls to go on to be productive women in our society.”

“”We just hope and pray that there is some solution to keep the school open for the kids,” Fabiola Tally, whose daughter and two granddaughters attended Prep, told WDSU News.

Kimberly Dilosa organized a meeting for this past Saturday at Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in the Lower Ninth Ward to devise a plan to save the school.

The Louisiana Weekly reached out to school officials but did not receive comments from the administration before it went to press.

*Additional reporting by Louisi­ana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the February 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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