By Sarah Plummer
St. Francis de Sales School announced Tuesday its intent to expand course offerings into secondary education, becoming the first Catholic high school in southern West Virginia and the first established in the state in 57 years.
Elementary and middle school Principal Karen Wynne said the high school will be located behind the established school on its current campus in Beckley. Ninth- and 10th- graders will begin this fall, 11th-graders in the fall of 2014 and seniors in fall 2015.
The school also announced that Dr. Emily Meadows will take the helm of the new high school as dean. Meadows is retiring this year from Raleigh County Schools with 37 years experience.
Deena Salon, new school committee member and St. Francis parent, calls this “a dream come true.”
Salon said there has been an interest in offering high school level courses at St. Francis for many years, but the last year has brought a concerted effort among parents of St. Francis de Sales, parents of Sts. Peter and Paul School in Oak Hill, the church parishes and the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese.
A survey conducted at the two area Catholic elementary and middle schools revealed that 85 percent of parents were interested in having their children continue in a faith-based setting.
“There are tangible and intangible results from education,” shared Salon. “What we have seen from Catholic education in our area is rigorous academics. Our students become valedictorians, go on to great universities and are successful in their careers. The intangible side is that we build strong character. Our students are good people who love Jesus, their families and their communities.”
Parents who took part in the interest survey indicated they believe the private, faith-based school offers a safe, comfortable environment with teachers who care about them, she said.
“Our teachers, parent volunteers and coaches at St. Francis really care about all aspects of these kids’ lives. They want to see them become successful and are supportive, passionate and challenging,” she said.
Moreover, both Catholic and non-Catholic parents indicated they wanted a faith-based environment for their kids, she said.
Wynne noted that parents said they value smaller class sizes.
“We already do elementary and middle school exceptionally well and this will be an expansion of that excellence into high school,” Salon said. “Students who stay with us and continue into high school or who elect to enroll in the high school will have a rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college and life.”
Meadows, who herself started school at St. Francis in 1961, attested to the academic rigor and family atmosphere of the school.
“My parents and grandparents were instrumental in starting this school in 1957. As a little kid, that doesn’t mean anything ... but as you start to get older you realize, ‘My parents didn’t have to do that. It was important to them.’ And it has become important for me, too. When parents make the sacrifice to establish a school or send their kids to private school, those are parents who are going to be involved in the school and their children’s education,” Meadows said.
In addition to the school culture of caring, love and respect, Meadows said statistics show over 90 percent of students who attend Catholic high schools graduate and 80 percent go on to college.
Meadow said she is thrilled to get back to working directly with students after working as director of Personnel for Raleigh County Schools. She will be teaching math and other subjects and getting back to her love of curriculum.
Wynne pointed out that while St. Francis de Sales School is Catholic-based, everyone from all faiths and walks of life are welcome.
She also pointed out that St. Francis has students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and 25 percent of the students population is on free or reduced lunches.
The school has some scholarships for students in need as well, she said.
The new St. Francis de Sales High School, like the middle school, will have track and field and cross country sports teams who compete under the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
They hope to expand their sports to swimming, golf and tennis at the high school level.
The establishment of the high school would not have been possible without the support of parish pastors Monsignor Samuel Sacus and Father Paul Unger, said Wynne.
Wynne said parents interested in receiving more information about enrolling their child/children can contact the school via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, 304-252-4087.