Ascension schools open

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --  Sixth-graders eat lunch in the new cafeteria on the first day of school at Prairieville Middle School Wednesday.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Sixth-graders eat lunch in the new cafeteria on the first day of school at Prairieville Middle School Wednesday.

— With the patience and precision of a traffic cop, Prairieville Middle School sixth-grade teacher Sandi Gautreau directed her 20 students Wednesday through a maze of construction areas on their way to have lunch in the school’s new cafeteria.

As she entered, Gautreau joined other sixth-grade teachers in working to shuffle 300 students through the busy cafeteria in just 30 minutes.

“At least it’s cool in here,” Gautreau said, after her group’s arrival.

Construction zones weren’t a rare occurrence on the first day of school throughout the Ascension Parish public school system.

Construction also was underway at six schools on the first day of classes.

“Where don’t we have construction?” she said.

Students at G.W. Carver Primary School were scheduled to move into their new school, but inclement weather caused a delay in opening the new school on Cornerview Road in Gonzales.

The Carver project is expected to be complete in October and Prairieville Middle students should move into new classrooms at the start of the second semester, Superintendent Patrice Pujol said.

At Prairieville Middle, the new cafeteria wasn’t the only change on campus, which houses sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

Students arrived at the school on opening day to find a new bus entrance, the cafeteria ready for business, and classrooms and a new administration building under construction.

“We had some construction last year, but things are really going now,” Prairieville Middle Principal Dina Davis said.

Davis, who said she was a bit under the weather, was busy overseeing the more than 900 students and 100 faculty members on the campus, which was dotted with temporary fences and construction signs.

Davis said she was surprised how smoothly things went at the new school entrance at the opening bell.

“Things really went much smoother than we thought,” Davis said.

The school is undergoing a $12.5 million makeover, one of the major projects funded by a $100 million bond issue parish voters approved in 2009.

With the addition of close to 50 new teachers, Pujol said, the staff was prepared for the 19,780 students who showed up for classes across the parish.

“I’ve had zero problems filter up to me today,” Pujol said.

Pujol called the first day attendance number, which was up from last year’s first-day districtwide enrollment of 19,587, “very soft,” adding that students are still registering and the administration expects to see enrollment increases during the next week.

“We look to grow between 300 and 600 students each year and … this year should be no exception,” she said.

Students not only showed up for their first day of classes at the system’s 27 schools Wednesday, Pujol said, but 28 students enrolled in the system’s new early college program at River Parishes Community college, which educates high school students in a college setting.

Principal Davis spent most of the morning going over school and classroom rules as part of her advisory, or homeroom, class at Prairieville Middle.

“By Monday, you will be pros at sixth grade, she said as she explained the modified block schedule her school uses.

Ascension Catholic Diocesan Regional Schools in Donaldsonville started classes Wednesday, while students at St. Theresa and St. John parochial schools start Thursday.

Students at Ascension Christian elementary, middle and high schools return to school Aug. 19.