Sal Federico, the founder of Ecole Classique and a teacher for seven decades, died Sunday, his son David confirmed. He was 93.
Despite his age, his death came as a surprise to his family, David Federico said. The elder Federico showed no signs of slowing down. He still lived alone and showed up every day at the school, where he taught two geometry classes.
"He taught his two classes on Friday and drove himself home," David Federico said.
Saturday morning, he went to the home of one of David Federico's sisters to ride out Hurricane Nate. He went to sleep that night as normal but never woke up, Federico said.
Federico and his wife Rose Marie founded Ecole Classique in uptown New Orleans in 1956, beginning with kindergarten and adding a grade every year. In 1979, they moved the school to its current Metairie location.
His four children followed him into the business: David Federico is the high school principal, his brother Greg is the elementary school principal, sister Julie is the admissions director and another sister, Gina, is the preschool director.
The school remains one of a dwindling number of family-owned and family-run private schools, Federico said. And his dedication earned admiration from others in the business.
"His whole life was in that school," said Kyle France, president of Kehoe-France Northshore, another family-run school. "That takes incredible focus and dedication and passion."
Federico's longevity was eye-catching, but according to those who knew him, what truly set him apart was his focus on students. He maintained an open-door policy, telling a reporter last year, "If any student has a problem or if they want to just come in to talk or even eat their lunch, they are welcomed in my office any time.”
When classes began recently at Ecole Classique School in Metairie, students, faculty and sta…
"He was the type of man who gave everything to those kids," David Federico said. "He always looked for the underachievers to succeed."
Ecole Classique purchased the Sam Barthe School for Boys in 1979. At first, it seemed like a culture clash. The two schools were very different. Ecole was coed, and Barthe was not, for instance.
"We may have had a little different type of philsophy," David Federico recalled. "But he gained the respect of those boys. He was there to educate them and make them better."
Some of those kids became close friends of the Federicos, he said. "It was extremely difficult, but he did it," David Federico said.
Kelly Marbry, a graduate of the school who has worked with its parent and alumni groups, said "Mr. Sal" was like a family member to all of the school's students.
"Mr. Sal welcomed us with open arms," she said, recalling her first days at Ecole. "He was like a grandpa."
Federico, she said, hated school holidays. "He wanted to be at school, teaching; he wanted to be with the kids," she said.
Similar tributes and remembrances poured in on social media as word of his death spread throughout the Ecole community over the weekend.
"Mr. Sal was such an inspiration to all and a true leader and educator," wrote one former student, echoing the thoughts of many.
Besides his four children, survivors include seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Services will be held Friday at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., New Orleans, with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. and a Mass at 2 p.m.