St. John Berchmans Catholic School Welcomes Changes!


by Kelly Phelan Powell

With the advent of a new school year, St. John Berchmans Catholic School in Shreveport is undergoing some exciting changes. Former principal Jo Cazes retired this year after more than four decades working in education, and assistant principal Jennifer Deason, who is in the dissertation phase of a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Louisiana Tech, has transitioned into the leadership position at SJB. Trey Woodham, athletic director and middle school PE teacher, has assumed the assistant principal role.

There have been many cosmetic touches as well, but one change has teachers, parents and even students excited: SJB will offer Latin as part of its foreign language program for the 2017-18 school year.

“My vision for SJB is to continue to raise the bar, never settling for what we expect of ourselves or our students,” said Deason. “We would like to see growth in all of our learners across the board,” added Woodham. The new Latin curriculum is a major step toward those goals. Whitney Snead, current Latin teacher at Loyola College Prep, will give Latin instruction to SJB middle schoolers three times per week. Grades 3 through 5 will receive Latin instruction from Amy Vitacca, who also teaches middle school social studies.

“Embracing Latin at SJB makes perfect sense for our identity as a Catholic school with a rich curriculum in STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math). As the official language of the Church, Latin enhances our Catholicity. Latin root words are the foundation in science and the language of law, government and theology. [It] supports learning grammar in the English language [and] prepares students to learn other foreign languages,” Deason explained.

As nine-time Science Olympiad State Champions, SJB takes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) very seriously. Although retired, Cazes will continue to work with the Science Olympiad team. “She and I are very close, and I have encouraged her to find a happy balance as she transitions into retirement,” said Deason. “When she is missing us, the school routine or the smiles from the kids, then I want her to come to school. She still has so much to share!”

SJB has undergone a number of other improvements and updates over the summer. Some of these include new landscaping around the campus, handrails, new upholstery for the kneelers in the Cathedral and new scoreboards for the gym. The downstairs hallway has also been painted, lightening the space. “The library and technology center look beautiful,” said Deason, describing the murals and other artistic touches added to the 4100 square foot space. SJB has also redesigned its spirit wear and will be offering students new options for outerwear.

Woodham, who recently completed a 10-month Catholic Education Leadership Program through Loyola Marymount University, is ready and eager for his new role at SJB. “My main goal of the year is to support Jennifer [Deason] in any way I can to make sure this transition into new leadership is as smooth as possible. A lot of times, change makes people uncomfortable… I want to remind our students and parents that everything we do has purpose, and every decision we make is made with the best interest of our students, faculty and staff in mind. Another main goal of ours will be to expose our community to what a great school SJB is so we can increase and maintain a level of enrollment that our school is set up to support,” he said.

To that end, Ashley Timmons, Counselor and Marketing Director, has been working with a dedicated group of experienced volunteers to get the word out that SJB is an amazing learning environment with a strong Catholic Christian culture.

“Too often, people tell us they didn’t know about us,” said Deason. “We are working on getting our name out there and all the wonderful things that our school has to offer, but it is partially our fault – I find our school and families tend to be humbler, not needing or wanting too much extra attention for their good deeds or accomplishments. Fr. Peter Mangum [pastor of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans] said we just need to tell the truth, so we are trying to do so more often… Our Catholic faith is rich and evident in all that we do, our STREAM curriculum is strong and only getting better with the recent addition of Latin. Our school truly feels like a family.”

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