East St. John Preparatory School rebranding with new focus

Published 12:15 am Saturday, August 26, 2017

RESERVE — The first day of school usually isn’t an occasion for students and teachers to have a party.

It’s often quite the opposite — unless you happen to attend East St. John Elementary School in Reserve.

Actually, make that East St. John Preparatory School in Reserve.

When students reported to the school’s temporary campus Aug. 10 on the site of Leon Godchaux Junior High School (the original campus is undergoing construction following a 2015 fire), they were greeted with a rocking good time.

Norselys Lopez, right, works on an assignment this week with her classmates at East St. John Preparatory School.

Students entered the school to find a red carpet tacked to the entrance hall and leading through several balloon arches.

Loud music blared from speakers.

Teachers and administrators, meanwhile, served as the “paparazzi,” snapping cell phone photos and videos. There were even real TV cameras and news crews there to document the occasion.

The D.J. for the day was none other than principal Stacy Bradford, who helped come up with the theme for the school year.

“Our theme this year is ‘Showtime’ and our kids are the stars,” Bradford said. “We wanted to make the kids feel like superstars.”

Seventh grader Norelle Frank said it was a great way to be welcomed on the first day of school, but she wasn’t surprised.

“Our school is always exciting and fun,” she said. “It made us feel like movie stars to help get us motivated.”

Principal Stacy Bradford is leading East St. John Preparatory School.

Bradford said his students are shining bright and have the test scores to prove it. A consistent “C” school in the St. John the Baptist Parish district, East St. John Elementary increased its performance score 9.5 points last term, the most improvement of any St. John Parish public school.

Nearby Fifth Ward Elementary has not done so well.

That prompted School District Superintendent Kevin George to, in effect, merge the student bodies but split them between the two campuses.

Beginning this year, prekindergarten through fourth grade students are attending Fifth Ward, and the fifth through eighth graders have been sent to East St. John Elementary — now East St. John Prep.

It was the reconfiguration that precipitated the name change.

“It came from their leadership team who said they’d really not like to be referred to as an elementary school anymore,” George said. “It’s more of a middle school, and they actually toyed around with the name ‘middle.’ I told the Board they would like a name change and, actually, one of the Board members came up with the idea of East St. John Preparatory School.”

Bradford said he and his staff loved the idea, which still must be approved by the full School Board at an upcoming meeting.

The students are embracing the name as well, Bradford said, with some simply calling it “The Prep.”

“I think the name change is good because it shows that we want to be prepared for the next level,” eighth grader Jai Gaines said. “It shows that our school is a priority to them and they want us to be ready for high school.”

Bradford said he is taking the prep part seriously. The school has bulked up the curriculum to include keyboarding, Spanish I, computer applications, computer literacy, speech I, algebra I and band, which allows students to leave ESJP with up to nine high school credits.

“We also developed a real legit honors program,” Bradford said. “We have our own magnet program within our school. We have elite kids in elite classes. The stronger kids are in bigger classes with 29 to 30 kids. The weaker kids are in smaller classes, sometimes with 12 or 13 kids in a class so they can get more of that one-on-one attention.”

Bradford said it’s about changing the culture.

“You have some kids that haven’t seen success in so long, it’s hard,” he said. “The culture here is about winning.”

With that in mind, Bradford has set new goals, including a 15-point increase in school performance scores this year, increasing reading literacy and helping the special education population improve.

“I think the kids are ready,” Bradford said. “This is where we need to be.”

The Showtime theme will carry on throughout the year, Bradford said, including the eighth grade graduation ceremony, which will be modeled after the Academy Awards.

“All the awards will be shaped like the Oscar man,” Bradford said. “We’ll be in tuxedos and ball gowns. It will be a truly legit Oscar awards presentation.”