Growing up in the 80's on the outskirts of New Orleans afforded a guy like myself many memories. Being a part of the marching band tradition in my own hometown community opened more doors than I can possibly mention. As I write this, I'm instantaneously taken back in time to Mardi Gras in 1982 to the staging area before the start of a little parade named after the greek god of wine.
As far as the eye could see, there were marching bands lined up in preparation. I'm talking about high school bands that provided the feed stock to fuel the most storied marching bands on the collegiate level. St. Augustine, John McDonough, McDonough 35, John F. Kennedy, Cohen...the list goes on and on.
But amidst all of these spectacular bands there were two schools that had a very unique quality all their own. St. Mary's Acadamy and Xavier University Preparatory. Both of which were all girl institutions.
Now I'm sure you can only imagine what type of affect an all girl high school had on a teenage boy back in that day or in any day for that matter.
Needless to say I was somewhat taken aback when I learned earlier this year that Xavier Prep had lost its financial base and the founders, The Sisters Of The Blessed Sacrament, had come to the painful realization that it would have to close the doors of this prestigious institution.
As an alumni of Xavier University, I found the news to be a heartbreaking reminder of how vulnerable the public educational system was in a post-katrina New Orleans.
But there was a light at the end of darkest of tunnels...
Xavier University Preparatory School, the historic, all-girls Catholic school in Uptown New Orleans, will remain open after a group of six alumni stepped up to buy the campus from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. Before a standing-room only crowd Monday night, members of the 5116 Magazine Street Corp., the alumni group that made the purchase, announced that the school will operate as an independent Catholic school and will adopt a new name -- St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory High School -- in honor of the school's founder.
The buyers are Civil District Court Chief Judge Pipper Griffen, Civil District Court Clerk Dale Atkins, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby, 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Lombard, and lawyers Keith Doley and Shantell Payton.
"The time was short, the emotions unspeakable, but the Prep family came together," said Atkins, a 1976 graduate. "The Drexel dream continues. Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow, the work begins."
The school, which has operated under the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for 98 years and has primarily educated African-American girls, faced turmoil in February
when the religious order announced plans to close the school because it did not have a "financially stable future."
The 5116 Magazine Street Corp. is separate from the school's Alumni Association and the Xavier Prep Foundation Fund. The group has entered into an agreement with the building owners to purchase the school's campus, and have said that those plans will be finalized next week, though they would not disclose the purchase price. At a February meeting, school President Joseph Peychaud estimated the cost of the campus to be in the $5 million to $6 million range.
Students and parents will see a tuition increase, though many said they expected that news. Overall cost for students for the 2013-14 school year will be $8,500, up from about $7,200 last year. Parent Desiree Anderson said, "It's worth it."
"We're very grateful that the school is staying open, but we always had the faith," she said. "My family has been going here for generations, and it nourishes you as a whole person. I had no doubt it would remain open; I didn't register my daughter anywhere else."
The corporation members also said they would be working hard to retain as much of the current faculty as possible. Members also said that despite the name change, the school's mission under the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament would remain the same, as will the school uniform and the yellow jacket mascot. The school will now operate as an independent Catholic school under the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
"This was nerve-wracking at the beginning, but now I'm excited that I'll get to stay with my friends," said 15-year-old student Gabrielle Riley. "I feel like I've grown so much as a person here. I'm excited for next year."