Two new schools are in the works for Youngsville's Sugar Mill Pond traditional neighborhood development ' a Christian high school that would get seed money from Lafayette jewelry magnate Matt Stuller's Stuller Foundation and a Diocese of Lafayette elementary school.
"We've structured them to where they both can happen," says Sugar Mill Pond developer Robert Daigle. He stresses that neither deal has been finalized.
Anna Larriviere, superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Lafayette Diocese, could not be reached for comment on the status of the elementary school, which would serve K-8 students.
But Stuller Foundation has already committed to make a multi-million dollar donation toward establishing a Christian-based high school. "It would be strictly matching grant money," says Stuller, who declined to release the specific grant amount. Sugar Mill Pond has agreed to donate the real estate for both ventures.
Stuller maintains it will be imperative that the high school operates debt-free so that tuition is affordable and teachers earn competitive salaries. He envisions an institution that serves a diverse population of students and emphasizes extracurricular activities and some less traditional sports, like swimming and rowing.
"We'd like to do a high school that is very heavy in the arts," Stuller says.
No decision has been made on whether the school will associate with an existing feeder system. "All I can say right now is that we've talked to most every school," Stuller says. "We don't want to compete; we just want to meet the growing demand." The businessman says while the new institution needs a plan for establishing a consistent student base each year, that objective may be accomplished solely on the demand for more Christian high schools.
"We understand their populations and their increases in population," Stuller says. The maximum number of students at the new high school will be 700-800, which he believes won't meet impending demand. "One more high school will not meet the needs, but it will certainly help."
In addition to the influx of students from hurricane ravaged areas, some of Acadiana's Christian schools will face new enrollment challenges in the years ahead. St. Thomas More, the city's largest Catholic facility, accommodates about 1,080 students each year and as of last week had an additional 93 displaced students, according to Development Director Babette Werner. Next year, the expanded St. Pius campus will begin feeding ninth graders into STM, which may be forced to tighten some admissions requirements. "I don't think it's going to be a problem for students who are educationally sound and have no discipline records," Werner says.
An expansion of Christian-based elementary and middle schools and enrollment increases at existing ones will further strain local high schools, Werner says. She suggests most schools welcome talk of new facilities to accommodate parents and students who favor a Christian-based curriculum. "It's interesting for us," Werner says. "Because we think another school enhances all of our programs."
While the seed money and land donation are a promising start, Stuller contends the project needs more momentum. Even under the most ambitious financing and construction timeline, the high school would not be fully operational for at least three years. "We really do need to get a groundswell of people excited about it," he says. ' Leslie Turk
TAKING A NEW ROUTE
Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent James Easton is recommending that the Lafayette Parish School Board not renew school system Transportation Director Daniel Michel's contract at its meeting this Wednesday.
Michel, who was hired in February 2004, came under fire last year after a new bus route reorganization plan resulted in mass confusion between students, parents and bus drivers. While the confusion has settled, the plan still has not resulted in the financial savings that were originally projected.
Easton declined to attribute the move to any specific issue. "It's the same thing with a principal or any other position," he says. "It's just to strengthen our leadership."
The move did not come as a shock to the school board, which was set to review Michel's contract before it expires in February.
"I'm not surprised," says board member Mike Hefner. "It's just been too much of a struggle. Daniel has worked really, really hard. I think the superintendent just felt that the department hasn't been as effective as it could be, and it may be no fault to Daniel himself."
Easton plans to conduct a national search for the school system's next transportation director. ' Nathan Stubbs
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