Area students return to classes

Wade McIntyre and Michael Tortorich
Lakeside Primary physical education teacher Aimee Williams assists students disembarking from buses at the new school Thursday morning. Lakeside is one of three new primary schools that opened in Ascension Parish Wednesday, along with Central Primary and Spanish Lake Primary.

Children, faculty and staff bustled around the campus of Spanish Lake Primary Wednesday morning.

On the first day of the new school year, the new school appeared to be running smoothly.

Principal Britt Colon emerged out of his office with a grin. The school that had been months in the making, finally opened its doors to students.

In the halls, janitors could be found keeping the campus shiny new and teachers and students lined the walls as they explored their new school.

In Melanie Guillory’s kindergarten classroom, well-behaved students colored as they waited for individual attention from their teacher.

Similar scenes played out across the area as all Ascension Parish students started the new school year Wednesday.

Three new public schools opened for the first time – Spanish Lake Primary, Central Primary and Lakeside Primary.

At Lakeside Primary where construction stretched out to almost opening day, Principal Linda Embry confessed that she was a little nervous, but never worried about the opening her new school.

“The contractor and superintendent said it would be ready on time and it was,” she said, as students disembarked from buses on the second day of school Thursday morning. “The only thing missing now is grass on the grounds, but we have lots concrete area where we can have recess.”

Embry said teachers and administration officials moved into the school Aug. 5,  and everybody worked over the past weekend to get the classrooms set up.

“When we got here Wednesday (Aug. 5) all the things for the class rooms were in pods and boxes,” she said. “It took a lot of dedication to be ready on time, but you know, that’s how teachers are in Ascension Parish, very dedicated.”

At Central Primary, Principal Danette Ragusa said Thursday children and faculty had a great and very calm opening day. Unlike the Lakeside School, teachers and administration at Central were able to move in at the beginning of July to prepare the new school.

“This is my first time to be in a brand new school,” Ragusa said. “It was very interesting to see how it all falls into place.”

The school had about 700 students enrolled in classes, according to Ragusa.

“All of my faculty and staff are so appreciative to have this new facility to work in,” she said.

The school system has opened eight schools within the last seven years. And with the parish’s population growth and projections of more residents to come, more new schools will be needed.

Officials have said the parish's population is expected to double by 2030.

Aside from the need for new schools, some of the district's existing schools need improvement.

The School Board in June unanimously voted to place a proposition on the Oct. 17 ballot to extend an existing parish-wide millage for four years to give the district money to renovate schools.

The proposition would ask voters to extend an existing 15.08 millage, which currently runs to 2025, for another four years to 2029. This would bring in about $100 million to fund the system’s most-needed renovation projects.

Some of the campuses in the parish are 50 to nearly 80 years old, Superintendent Donald Songy said.

Correcting the disparity among the schools would allow the accommodation of more students and more modern technology.

After voters approved the tax requests in 2005, the district has built five new elementary schools.

Pecan Grove Primary and Prairieville Primary both opened in August 2008.

The Central K-8 school has been restructured into a middle school.

A sixth elementary school is set to open in August 2010. Formerly known as Orange Grove Primary, the board approved the naming of the school as Sorrento Primary. It will be located on Hwy. 22 in Sorrento.

Central Primary fourth grade teacher Sally Allbritton points to an area in her class room where the students put their school material.