ESJ ninth grade center finally opens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – This year’s incoming freshman class at East St. John High School will likely be seeking a means to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, something to call its own.

How about a brand spanking new, $4.7 million facility complete with 23 new classrooms and state of the art science and computer labs? And the best part about it for the some 450 ninth-graders expected Thursday for the first day of school: it’s just for them.

For the last five years, ESJ has provided ninth-graders their own school within a school, the Freshman Success Academy, designed to alleviate the jump from middle school to high school.

On Friday, the academy became a break-off campus and received a face of its own as school officials unveiled the East St. John High School Ninth Grade Center, a 38,000 square foot, stand-alone facility adjacent to the main high school. School Board members, parish officials, parents, teachers and curious onlookers gathered in the building’s main lobby on a rainy afternoon for petit fours, punch and a ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the new facility.

Linda Johnson, president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), congratulated ESJ for being “on the forefront” of the state’s high school redesign effort, which, among other things, calls for establishing ninth grade academies. Addressing a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 people, Johnson emphasized the importance of catering to ninth-graders in what most experts agree is a year that determines whether a student will ultimately finish school.

“It’s almost like leaving 12th grade and going to a four-year university where you have to make a big transition in your lifestyle and how you function,” Johnson said. “There’s a big transition between eighth grade and ninth grade, and – unless you do it right – you lose good students.”

School officials have already credited the ninth-grade academy with improving retention rates and overall test scores. The school creates a small campus atmosphere that allows students to receive extra support from their teachers. Students focus on math and English, take lessons in study skills and choose between different curriculum paths based on career choices and interests.

With the new facility, freshmen will still leave the building for physical education and to use the high school’s cafeteria.

The opening of the ninth grade center came eight months later than originally scheduled. School Board President Gerald Keller said some of the delays were attributable to air conditioning problems, which he said are still not entirely resolved.

ESJ Principal Patricia Triche, who called the new ninth grade center part of “a transformation” in parish schools, said the building “wasn’t polished enough” in time for a January opening.

“We didn’t want to rush it,” she said.