After years of declining enrollment, the Diocese of Baton Rouge is giving up on Redemptorist High, its lone high school in north Baton Rouge.
In a news conference Friday morning, Bishop Robert Muench announced that Redemptorist Senior High, and its accompanying Junior High, will close after the 2014-15 school year ends in May.
“We have hoped against hope,” Muench said. “We have tried whatever we knew to do.”
The closure of Redemptorist will leave Catholic High, St. Joseph’s Academy and St. Michael the Archangel as the only Catholic high schools in Baton Rouge. The move also leaves no Catholic high schools in town north of Florida Boulevard.
Redemptorist High School opened in 1947 with an enrollment of 43 freshmen and sophomores, according to the school’s website. The first class graduated in May 1951.
It has long been a prominent school in town at its location at 4000 St. Gerard Ave. For years, it routinely enrolled 1,000-plus kids, but the enrollment has steadily declined over the past 20 years.
Redemptorist Senior and Junior High schools have 223 students in grades seven to 12. If the school were to remain open, the diocese is predicting enrolling as few as 146 students next year.
“If you don’t have students, it’s impossible to run a school,” Muench said.
Forty-nine are seniors who will graduate as part of the class of 2015, the school’s 65th and final graduating class. The rest, including 51 juniors, will have to find a new high school.
While the senior and junior highs are technically two schools with separate site codes, they operate these days as one school under one principal, Daryl Glueck. Glueck became principal last summer, having spent many years as head of Broadmoor High School.
Muench estimated he has visited Redemptorist’s campus more than 50 times since becoming bishop and is under no illusions how students and parents will take the news.
“I know they’re going to be sad,” he said. “I’m sad with them.”
The final blow, Muench said, came in October when the Louisiana Department of Education notified the diocese that both schools would be ineligible to take in new publicly funded voucher students through the Louisiana Scholarship Program until test scores improved.
A total of 92 students at the schools have their tuition and fees paid via vouchers, roughly half the student body. The schools opened their doors to voucher students, in most cases transfers from low-performing public schools, in 2012, when the voucher program was expanded statewide.
Redemptorist was cut out, for at least the 2015-16 school year, after it posted poor results overall on spring standardized testing. To offer vouchers to newly enrolled students, the voucher students have to generate a collective Student Cohort Index of at least 50 on a 150-point scale. Public schools, which receive a similar School Performance Score, earn an F grade if their school score earns less than 50. Four years as F schools make public schools eligible for state takeover.
Voucher students at Redemptorist Junior, grades seven to nine, collectively earned a 26.3. The high school voucher students, grades 10 to 12, received a score of less than 25; the state did not report a specific score for the high school.
Melanie Verges, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said voucher students typically arrive far behind academically. She said the schools have helped many students make great progress, but Redemptorist didn’t have enough time to bring them up to the level the state requires.
Redemptorist Elementary School, which is next door, is remaining open. It will add a seventh grade next year and an eighth grade in 2016 to partially offset the closure of the junior high. The elementary school’s enrollment is a bit higher: it has a larger complement of voucher students, especially in the lower grades, and it is financially stable, Verges said.
The voucher students at the elementary school, though, are still collectively below the 50 mark. They earned a 46.1 score in state testing last year, meaning the elementary school also is barred from accepting new voucher students for the 2015-16 school year.
Thursday was the last day of the first semester, so students weren’t at school when the news broke. The diocese is sending letters to families, as well as a list of frequently asked questions, explaining the closure. Redemptorist faculty learned of the decision at a meeting Friday morning just minutes before the news conference.
The diocese is planning a meeting at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the school library to explain the decision to those parents who still have questions. On Jan. 6, Redemptorist is planning to hold a school fair for voucher students. Verges said all students receiving vouchers will be allowed to keep them after they transfer to another high school.
Muench said he has no idea what the diocese will do with the empty school campuses once they close.
“We haven’t even begun to have that conversation,” he said.
High school choices in general are dwindling for students in north Baton Rouge. Hosanna Christian Academy, a private school with many voucher students, closed its small high school a year ago.
Istrouma High School also closed last year and is expected to reopen as a charter school in 2016. Capitol High School was converted to a charter school last summer, but enrolls a fraction of the kids it once did. Glen Oaks High also has steadily lost students in recent years.
Meanwhile public high schools that surround north Baton Rouge — including Belaire, Broadmoor, McKinley and Scotlandville — have all seen their enrollment balloon, all topping 1,000 students currently.