Pope John Paul II High School is already guaranteed it will fill its three new middle school grades when they open for the next school year in August.
The decision to make JPII a 6-12 school first began to circulate in the public in mid-December, and a formal announcement was made in early January. Since then the school has received more than 240 applications, “so we have more applications than spots,” said JPII Head of School Michael Deely. “We’ve had a really good response.”
“It’s exceeded our expectations,” Deely said. “We weren’t worried about filling the spots, but we were surprised at how quickly they filled up.”
One of the reasons JPII officials wanted to add the middle school grades was to stabilize its feeder system for the high school grades. But students don’t have to enroll in the middle school grades to ensure a spot in the high school grades later on, Deely said.
“If kids don’t come to the middle school that’s fine. There will be room for them in the high school when that comes around,” he said. “We weren’t pressuring people” to commit to the school now by enrolling in the middle school, he added.
Sixty-five percent of the applications are from students currently outside the Catholic school system, Deely noted. “They’re mostly from public schools.”
A study by the Meitler consulting firm of potential interest in attending JPII for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades indicated that 62 percent of likely enrollees would come from public schools. The Meitler study proved especially accurate, Deely said.
One of the arguments Deely made in support of opening the middle school grades is that it would bring more students into the Catholic school system. That has been borne out in the applications the school has received, he said.
The middle school grades will end up having more than 100 students that previously attended non-Catholic schools, Deely said.
He expressed gratitude to Bishop J. Mark Spalding and diocesan Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel for their support for adding the middle school grades at JPII. Offering middle school grades provides “the ability to have so many people come through the door of Catholic education,” Deely said. “I appreciate the bishop and Rebecca allowing the doors to be opened.”
JPII will have nine sections in the three middle school grades, three per grade, with an average of 20 students per section, Deely said.
The applicants have been evenly divided among the three grades, Deely said.
The demographics of the middle school applicants match those already seen among the high school student body and are consistent across all three middle school grades, Deely said. Catholics make up 55 to 60 percent of the applicants, which is similar to the Catholic/non-Catholic split in the high school grades.
A large number of the applicants live in Sumner County, including families who are parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville, whose children currently attend public schools.
The convenience of JPII’s location was appealing to those families, Deely said. And many families were impressed with the breadth of opportunities that will be available to the middle school students at JPII, he added.
For three weeks, JPII’s staff did presentations for families on the middle school program, which were organized by Andrew Griffith, assistant head of school for academics, and Kyle Reynolds, student support coordinator. The presentations included discussions of some of the extra-curricular programs led by Director of Innovation Jennifer Dye and Director of Marketing Jennifer Smith that will be available for the middle school students.
The discussions also included plans for the renovation of the library to include a drone obstacle course, and areas for robotics, business and entrepreneurship, media and marketing, and a broadcasting studio, all of which will be used by middle school and high school students, Deely said.
“There was something for everybody,” Deely said.
The middle school classrooms will be confined to the bottom floor of the academic wing of the school, and there are no plans to build more classrooms, Deely said.
By adding an estimated 180 students, the school will be using the building “to its proper capacity,” Deely said.
With the addition of the middle school grades, nearly all the classrooms will be used for every period during the school day, Deely explained. “More teachers will be sharing classrooms,” he said.
JPII is already hiring teachers for the middle school grades, Deely said. “We have some in the building who can transition from high school to middle school, and we’re hiring additional teachers in every department,” he said.
“In February, we plan to complete the whole admissions process and hiring process,” Deely said. “We plan from here on out to get ready for next August.”