Hosanna academy officials meet with parents, students on closure of high school

Holding back tears, Josh Le-Sage spoke Friday night about how difficult a decision it was to shutter the high school portion of Hosanna Christian Academy, a school he has run for the past three years and the school he graduated from in 1996.

“I sat in many of the same desks and classrooms that my children sat in,” said LeSage, who had to pause for several seconds before continuing.

The decision to close the high school at Hosanna Christian Academy, the private school in Louisiana with the most children attending via publicly funded vouchers, means 115 students will have to find other schools this fall.

News of the decision, made Monday, began trickling out Tuesday, soon finding its way to the local news media.

The decision had been months in the making.

LeSage said it came down to a frank assessment of whether the school could operate as good a high school as what it offers in the lower grades. He said having a high school too small to have a choir, a band or honors classes wasn’t going to cut it any longer.

“We’re not where we want to be. We’re not excellent in many parts of our program,” he said.

After a short talk, LeSage had parents with children in grades eight to 11 go to separate rooms to get answers to more specific questions they might have.

Dana Trahan, the head of the high school, spoke as both an educator and parent. He told other parents of ninth-graders that his own daughter will have to change schools and his wife, a high school teacher there, will have to find another job.

“Hosanna has been a place of sanctuary for my family,” he said.

Raquel Woods, who has a daughter in ninth grade, took the news in stride. She said she accepted Trahan’s explanation.

“To me, it’s for the betterment of the children,” she said.

Lynette Anderson, who has a child in second grade and another in ninth grade at Hosanna, said she sees some of the problems LeSage was speaking about, noting she’s seen a difference between the education her older child is getting versus her younger one.

“I’ve noticed a decline,” she said.

She just wishes the school had acted earlier and allowed her and other parents more time to find other schools.

“You could have made that decision four months earlier,” she said.

Trahan acknowledged the concern.

“This is not the most ideal time to tell a parent,” Trahan said.

Hosanna Christian Academy has scheduled a fair on Thursday in the school gym to introduce the students to other schools, eight private, three public.

Of the almost 700 students at Hosanna, 480 receive vouchers, up from 281 a year ago, the first year of the voucher program. LeSage had planned for even more voucher students, to the point where he was going to lease space elsewhere for a high school.

A few students pulled out after the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled last May it is unconstitutional to send money to private schools from the state’s education funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program. The Legislature kept the voucher program alive for 2013-14 via a special appropriation.

LeSage said the change made him rethink the wisdom of leasing space.

Trahan said the school was trying until the last minute to find a way to maintain a high school.

“Various things didn’t work out and we weren’t able to move to another campus,” he said.

Anderson is one of the parents whose children receive vouchers. Her oldest is one of 25 voucher students who will have to change schools. She said she plans to move both her children.

The parents and students who took the news the hardest are those connected with the junior class. They peppered Russell Marino, the chief operating officer, with tough questions, asking why they couldn’t keep the school open just one more year.

Marino said he changed high schools himself and said it presented challenges for him. Then he recognized Cheyenne Palmer, a top student and a standout athlete, to speak. She said she had been at Hosanna for most of her years in school and was excited about seeing her achievement recognized when she graduated.

“Now I have to go to another school where I won’t have any of the accolades,” Palmer said.