Opening of Schlarman Academy to make history in Danville

Photo Caption: Wind flags with the logo of the new Schlarman Academy will fly at each campus to welcome students.

By: By Jennifer Willems

DANVILLE — Students won’t just study history, they’ll be making it as classes start at the new Schlarman Academy here this week.

The result of two years of planning, the Academy brings together students from the former Holy Family School, St. Paul’s School and Schlarman High School to form one educational community that serves young people from preschool through high school.

Schlarman Academy was established officially on July 1.

The first principal of the new school is Robert Rice, who had led Schlarman High School since 2007. Mary Pat Shepherd, a teacher and principal at St. Paul’s School for 28 years, was named assistant principal.

While the goal is to have everyone at the same site in the future, for now classes for all students through eighth grade are being held at the former St. Paul’s School, which is now known as the Walnut Street Campus of Schlarman Academy. The freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors will attend classes at the Vermilion Street Campus, which was the former Schlarman High School.

The entire school community will gather for the first time at a picnic planned for this Wednesday, Aug. 10, at the Vermilion Street Campus. In addition to the food and games that will be available, class photos will be taken to mark the occasion, Rice said.

A half-day of classes for the elementary students and orientation for the freshmen follow on Aug. 11, with full class days starting on Aug. 12, according to Shepherd.

That’s when the real excitement begins and Rice summed up their goals succinctly: “Academic excellence.”

“We don’t want to be satisfactory,” he told The Catholic Post. “Anything short of excellence is not even an option for us.”

Bringing them closer to that goal are the interactive Promethean whiteboards that have been installed in each classroom at the Walnut Street Campus. The technology will allow the students to resize, move and twist images on the screen with the touch of a pen and gives teachers the option to incorporate color graphics and sound into their lessons, as well as videos.

Another first for students on the Walnut Street Campus is language study, which will start in kindergarten. Using Rosetta Stone, the teachers will introduce them to Spanish, French and Mandarin in two six-week sessions.
Shepherd said they will explore each language, choose the one that is their favorite in the sixth grade and hopefully complete level one by the time they move on to ninth grade.

“When they enter high school, they can begin with Spanish II, French II and, if we can find a Mandarin tutor, Mandarin II,” she said, noting that they chose the Chinese dialect to encourage the students to think globally and prepare them to interact with a culture that is a hub for technology and manufacturing.

New opportunities being considered on the high school level include providing tablets for the students. Rice added that the varsity coaches are also looking at ways to expand the sports program to bring the young people along from the sixth grade through high school.

Collaboration among the teachers in other subject areas, such as science and math, is also strengthening the curriculum, he said.

One of the things Rice is looking forward to is having the entire school community come together for Mass on Friday mornings at St. Paul’s Church.

“I was sitting in Mass recently and my wife thought I was kind of daydreaming a little bit during Father’s homily. What I was doing was counting pews and how many kids would fit in those pews,” he said with a chuckle. “We will pack the place.”

To accomplish their goals, the Vermilion County Catholic parishes took two years to plan the reconfiguration from three schools to one academy on two campuses. A 16-member board of trustees was established on July 1, 2010, and started looking at everything from handbooks, dress codes and tuition to which elementary school building would be used until the entire student body could be accommodated at the renovated Vermilion Street Campus.

In the end, the building and grounds committee had the difficult job of recommending the building at St. Paul’s over the building at Holy Family. A feasibility study has been conducted to determine how to proceed with work at the Vermilion Street Campus and one of the recommendations was to develop a capital campaign.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, recently approved that recommendation and Guidance in Giving Inc., a firm that has assisted several other parishes in the Diocese of Peoria, will direct the capital campaign, Rice said. Details are still being worked out.

The campaign theme is “Our Faith, Our Children, Our Future.”

Selecting buildings wasn’t the only difficult decision that has been made.

“There was a lot of emotion involved in the forming of the Academy. One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in 40 years of administration, and Mary Pat, I’m sure, agrees, is we spoke face to face with every person who applied for a position in the Academy. We also met face to face with every staff member we had to give our regrets to,” Rice said. “Mary Pat and I cried.”

As they move forward, the administrators and staff anticipate an enrollment of about 487 and Rice is convinced that there will be more than 500 students at Schlarman Academy by the time classes start.

“Mary Pat and I have been told by many people. . . that once we get here and the kids can do their things and the staff can do their things it will all work out,” Rice said.

“They are generally excited,” Shepherd added. “Parents will come in and sit and talk.”

While some of that talk is about the “family” they left at their former schools, “I think they will come to think of this as ‘family’ too,” she said.

Brother William Dygert, CSC, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria, said capturing and holding on to that educational heritage will be important as Schlarman Academy evolves because the goal is to continue the mission of Catholic school education that the community has fostered for so long.

“The reason we have Catholic school education in the diocese is because people have stood on the shoulders of others,” he told The Post. “We have to make sure that as the current generation, we make prudent decisions for the future.”

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