The news April 22 to parents was clear: Xavier University Preparatory School will reopen for female students in the seventh through 12th grades for the 2013-14 school year, only it will have a new name and be run by a new corporation.
Six Xavier Prep alumnae and alumni recently formed the nonprofit 5116 Magazine Street Preparatory High School Corporation (MSPHS) to keep alive the dream of the school’s foundress, St. Katharine Drexel. Members of the new corporation are Dale Atkins, Keith Doley, Piper Griffin, Edwin Lombard, Shantell Payton and Karen Wells Roby.
The new school will be named St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory High School and will be an independent, Catholic school, although with no affiliation to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS) that St. Katharine founded.
“We were deeply saddened to learn that the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament decided to close Xavier Prep; however, we are also very grateful to the leadership for giving us the opportunity to acquire the school property,” said corporation spokeswoman Wells Roby. “Although the sisters will have no affiliation with the new school, we, the alumni who have benefitted so greatly from their guidance, appreciate the legacy they leave behind.”
Members of the corporation, who dubbed themselves the “Drexel Dreamers,” devised a plan with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to buy the school property, including all furniture, fixtures and equipment. The sisters transferred the title but will hold the mortgage note with funds secured by First NBC who “put into place the requisite backing to secure the payments on the SBS mortgage,” said Fred Herman of Fred Herman Law Firm, the attorney for the corporation.
Starting an endowment
In addition, a Xavier Prep Alumni Group and the Xavier Prep Foundation are collaborating with the corporation on financing, administration and guidance of the new school. Former Xavier Prep graduates also have formed a foundation with the goal of creating an endowment.
The sisters came as “willing, good-faith participants without remuneration or promise of any additional monetary consideration than the purchase price,” Herman said. “We believe we have the blessing and good wishes of SBS or they would not have made this deal. SBS will not own the campus, which will be owned by the Magazine Street Preparatory High School Corporation, but they will always be welcomed at the historic religious site where St. Katharine Drexel worked, prayed and realized the vision.”
The six community leaders who formed the ownership team immediately rallied upon the surprise announcement on Feb. 20 that the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament would close Xavier Prep after this school year. The team’s plan from the beginning “was to ensure that there will be a Catholic learning institution honoring St. Katharine Drexel on that sacred ground on Magazine Street for many years to come,” said team member Dale Atkins.
The community, including First NBC, rallied behind the corporation to ensure the continuity of education.
While some current students at Xavier Prep have applied to and were welcomed by other high schools in the area, there was an agreement with the schools that students had an option to return to Xavier Prep if the school remained open.
Enrollment is there
The new school “did not come into existence on the hope that we would have adequate enrollment but was based on the support of the school family and community,” said Wells Roby. “Due diligence was performed that has satisfied the MSPHS, the financier, the foundation and the alumni that there will be sufficient enrollment to meet its needs in 2013-14.”
The focus of the corporation is, first and foremost, the students, said Atkins. “The new school expects to attract a teaching and administrative staff familiar to the students,” she said.
Members of the corporation said this venture “is not a temporary fix or interim measure,” Roby said. “It is an effort to put in place a permanent, staggered governing board with perpetual existence, permanent financing, an endowment, regular rather than crisis fund-raising and increased enrollment so that the mission of St. Katharine Drexel will continue to be fulfilled.”
Graduates stepped up
Alumnae and supporters of Xavier Prep have been vocal over the past few months that the school, which opened in 1915, should remain open. Xavier Prep has produced community leaders in law, healthcare, scientific research, education and technology.
“There is a deep and profound connection to Xavier University Preparatory High School,” Atkins said. “In one of our recent meetings, professional teacher, singer and performer Wanda Rouzan, class of ‘65, recounted how one of the sisters would sit her in a corner of a classroom with a Victrola record player and told her to play and listen to the LPs of all the popular Broadway musicals of the day as that was where her future lay. Not only did the sisters foster her love for learning but identified her talents and laid the foundation for her future.”
The new name of the school will reflect the educational legacy that St. Katharine Drexel left in New Orleans.
“St. Katharine Drexel had a dream, and we need that dream to continue,” Atkins said. “The new school will focus on the needs of young women who face an ever-changing academic environment. The curriculum will be focused to address the special academic demands of the scientific, technological and medical fields. It will be a focus that distinguishes the new school from the offerings of other schools in the community. … (It will provide) an opportunity, by choice, to be educated in a Catholic school dedicated to the needs of young women.”
The new school will retain Xavier Prep’s uniforms, mascot (the Yellowjackets) and school colors. It will hold a student contest for the new school’s logo, with the winner receiving an iPad.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.