New Pecan Grove Primary School dedicated during Sunday ceremony

Aaron Looney
At top, pictured cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the new Pecan Grove Primary School in Gonzales Sunday are, from left:?School Board members Kerry Diez and Troy Gautreau Sr., Assistant Superintendent Patrice Pujol, Assistant Principal Candy Wikman, Superintendent Donald Songy,  School Board members Steve Broussard and Pat Russo, School Board President Ed Price, Principal Margie Myers and School Board members Catherine Davis, Taft Kleinpeter, A.J.?Nickens and Harold Jarreau.

With the cut of a ribbon Sunday, months of hard work by teachers, administrators and school system employees became a reality.

The Ascension Parish School Board, along with the faculty and staff of Pecan Grove Primary School in Gonzales, hosted a special dedication ceremony to christen the school prior to the start of classes Friday morning.

“The faculty and staff of Pecan Grove Primary School has been looking forward to this day for a long time,” said Assistant Principal Candy Wikman, who thanked the central office staff and workers for their efforts in bringing the school to a reality.

The school, located off East Worthey Road in Gonzales, is one of two new K-5 primary schools the School Board is set to open this year. Prairieville Primary, located on Parker Road in Hobart, will also open for the first time Friday.

The board had worried that Prairieville Primary School may not be complete in time for the start of classes Friday. However, Superintendent of Schools Donald Songy said Sunday that the school would be entirely finished and ready for students Friday.

During his presentation, Songy said that it is fitting that one of the newest schools in the district would be located in Gonzales.

“Gonzales is also the home of the oldest school building in Ascension Parish,” said Songy, referring to the current Gonzales Primary School building on South Burnside Avenue. “That school opened in 1928, 80 years ago.”

Songy said that he cited the oldest school in the parish to show that the parish’s “tradition of educational excellence and community support” are not recent phenomena.

“Our schools and our communities have always worked hand in hand to make a better life for everyone,” Songy said. “When I think of all the teachers, administrators, staff and support staff who’ve worked in that school and all the schools in the past 80 years educating our children and all of the parents and children enriched by the education they’ve received and been a part of here, I can’t help but be proud of this community.”

Songy also noted the school will have a new principal, new assistant principal, new teachers, new staff and students as well as a new mascot - the pelican.

“What an appropriate symbol of what will be taking place here,” Songy said. “The pelican is the state bird of Louisiana and appears on our state flag, a mother nurturing three of her young. At this school beginning Friday morning, we will be nurturing our young.”

Assistant Superintendent Patrice Pujol focused her comments on the future, stating that the students who will be attending Pecan Grove Primary School would be part of “a world that we can’t even imagine.”

“With this institution, we will build upon and augment the tradition of educational excellence in the city of Gonzales,” Pujol said. “We must also look forward to the future. Students here will live in a world that will hold jobs not yet developed to solve problems not yet identified. They’ll use technology that has not yet been invented. The challenge for this school will be to preserve all that is good and sound and fine in our academic tradition as we develop innovative instructional approaches to develop our young students for the future. I have full confidence that with this beautiful, state-of-the-art facility and the professional team of educators assembled here, we will be able to rise to this challenge.”

School Board President Ed Price cited the team effort from the School Board and the central office staff in organizing the construction of Pecan Grove Primary and the other new schools.

“We work very hard to ensure that students here are provided with a quality education,” Price said. “Many say that the parish is growing because of this school system. This new school is evidence of that. We will continue to work as a team to keep Ascension Parish moving forward. We’re thankful that the residents of this parish have put their trust in us.”

Price also cited the cooperation between the school system and parish and city government in Gonzales, calling the cooperative attitude “something very special.”

Board member Troy Gautreau, who represents the Pecan Grove area, told those in attendance that the board could not have made this project work without the backing of the community and local businesses.

“They’ve been there for us,” Gautreau said. “That kind of trust is vital for any school system to be successful. The community has to be there.

During her comments, Pecan Grove Principal Margie Meyers thanked the many groups and organizations that helped to prepare the school for opening day. She also said that while the halls were quiet Sunday and teachers were still working to prepare their classrooms for the start of school, that would change come Friday.

“I invite you to visit us again in a week,” she said. “Come and see just what we’re doing here. We have an outstanding staff and faculty that have been working so hard to prepare this school. They’ve been here long hours and put in so much effort. That’s a testament to how much they care about these kids.”

However, Meyers said, a quality education does not come just from a new campus.

“It’s not just a building. It’s not just books. It’s people,” she said.

Meyers then read a letter from an incoming fourth-grade student at the school about what she expects on the first day of classes.

After the ceremony, Lambert said that she received 13 such letters back from fourth graders, with each stating how excited they were to be attending the school. In the letter, the student said that meeting new teachers and students is “just like adding another person to your family tree” and that someone she meets this year could go on to achieve national or global fame in the future and that she will think about “the people who helped her along the way” to her own goals.

“She gets it,” Meyers said of the student. “She understands our job.”

“They mainly talked about being excited to come to a new school and see all of the new things and meet new people and teachers,” said Lambert, a special education teacher working with fourth grade students at the school. “Their writing was excellent and, in many cases, above a fourth-grade level.”

Both schools are among five new campuses being constructed with funds from a tax passed by parish voters in 2005. Opening in the next two years will be Spanish Lake Primary School in Prairieville, Lakeside Primary in Galvez and a school to be located in the Orange Grove planned unit development south of Sorrento. The board is scheduled to officially accept a land donation from developer Renaissance Group LLC at its meeting tonight in Donaldsonville.

The School Board is using a template similar to that of Duplessis Primary School for the new schools, Songy said.

“It’s a great school and a great model to build from,” he said.

Another school, Central Primary School, will open next year. The board voted to build the school in an effort to alleviate overcrowding in the Dutchtown school district. Once open, the current Central Elementary School will become a middle school for sixth- through eighth-grade students. The school’s construction is being funded through the school system’s fund balance.

Pecan Grove Primary, a K-5 school is set to open Friday along with the rest of the parish’s public schools. It is one of two new schools opening Friday, along with the new Prairieville Primary School in Hobart.