Growth affects education

Michael Tortorich
Michael Tortorich is a reporter for The Gonzales Weekly Citizen. He can be reached at reporter1 @ weeklycitizen.com.

The booming population growth in Ascension Parish means something has to give in many aspects of the lives of the people who call the parish home.

That staggering growth has a distinct effect on education in particular.

Ascension Parish’s public schools are growing in population. The district has consistently ranked among the top ten in the state, and recently moved up to fourth. No doubt the influx of new residents and realtors alike have noted the system’s quality.

The district has undergone something of a building boom over the last few years to accomodate the growing rolls.

Meanwhile private schools have also grown in numbers. Evidence of this can be seen in schools like Ascension Christian, which has grown big enough to start its own football program.

The Lions debuted on the gridiron this season, at times with limited numbers, but showing virtually unlimited spirit even when times were tough. The team looks to build on its football tradition and join the likes of Ascension Catholic in Donaldsonville in upcoming seasons.

Sorrento will soon have its first K-12 school since the 1930s. The School Board recently broke ground at the Orange Grove site of the future Sorrento Primary School, which is set to open in early 2011.

This school year alone the district opened three new primary schools – Spanish Lake, Central and Lakeside.

As school officials have said, the district will probably average about a new school per year over the next few years. The board has been prepared for growth, as it has taken care to sock away money for buying land for new schools.

While it would be easy to only focus on future construction, the board has also worked to improve existing schools.

Voters approved a $100 million bond initiative Oct. 17 to fund a long list of projects at 20 parish schools. The board had to whittle down the projects from a wish list that exceeded $200 million.

Officials have said their goal was to put together a package that would address the district’s needs without raising taxes.

Aside from K-12 education, the parish is home to River Parishes Community College in Sorrento, which has grown over its first decade.

There are also several educational opportunities at schools like Louisiana Technical College and Ascension College, not to mention the reasonable proximity to LSU, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern, Nicholls State and New Orleans area universities.

Ascension has been praised as a key cog in the interstate corridor that spans south Louisiana. Not only does the Mississippi River run through the parish, but it also provides access to major thoroughfares such as Interstate 10 and Airline Highway.

Smart growth is imperative to remaining successful. There are lessons to be learned from other areas that grew out of control, and ultimately, drove people out. Maintaining a quality education system, without using a growing population as an excuse for downfalls, is key to the success.