From flames to celebration: East St. John Preparatory is back

Published 12:14 am Saturday, August 4, 2018

LAPLACE — A strong sense of community has remained since East St. John Preparatory Academy middle schoolers began enduring several transitions following a devastating East St. John Elementary building fire in August 2015.

That comes to fruition today as students, parents and St. John the Baptist Parish community members gather at 400 Ory Drive in LaPlace to celebrate a return home to the newly reconstructed school building.

East St. John Elementary transitioned from a prekindergarten-through-eighth-grade school to a fifth-through-eighth-grade institution while on the temporary Leon Godchaux Jr. High campus.

The newly reconstructed school building starts serving students again in 2018-19.

Interim principal Johnika Gayden-Gaines said grade redistribution elevated spirits and led students to rebrand the school East St. John Preparatory Academy, adding unwavering community support provided stability through each change.

“Sometimes when devastation occurs, the support you receive is short-lived,” Gayden-Gaines said. “With us, it was long-lasting. We want to show how thankful and appreciative we are to all the local businesses, individuals and churches that came together to help us in our transition by providing resources, manpower, supplies and textbook drives.”

Today’s dedication and ribbon cutting also includes a tour of the refurbished school, which features new signage, a media center, a reconfigured front office and conference room, a computer lab, expanded storage space in new and existing classrooms, new furniture and technological upgrades.

An entirely new gym will be completed in the early spring semester, bringing pride to East St. John Prep’s talented athletic programs.

Gayden-Gaines started working at East St. John Elementary as a teacher 13 years ago before moving through the ranks of master teacher and assistant principal.

She was named interim principal last month, replacing Stacy Bradford after he left to assume principal duties at Broadmoor High School in Baton Rouge.

Over the past three years, she watched school performance climb to a ‘B’ rating and stumble again in 2017 after a school merger with Fifth Ward Elementary.

The good news, according to Gayden-Gaines, is that faculty and administration have identified the areas that need improvement.

Reading stamina and literacy across all subjects are being promoted with extended tutoring and weekend enrichment opportunities.

“Last year was our transitional year,” Gayden-Gaines said. “Now as a middle school, we can become a better high school prep environment.”

Gayden-Gaines said students have a voice in school decisions, allowing them to take responsibility for their education and build leadership skills.

Assistant principals Glen Chenier and Mia Lewis are working on school improvement plans with an emphasis on community outreach.

A new parenting center providing adults with Internet and technological training is a major vision and one of the greatest additions to the school, according to Chenier.

“We don’t want parents to only come to the school when it’s time for conferences,” Chenier said. “We’ll provide support to help parents get where they need to be so they can be productive for their family and for the community.”

New opportunities also exist for students, Chenier said.

An ESJ Prep science teacher is beginning a girls-focused STEM club named GEMS, short for Girls Excelling in Math and Science.