HomeBusinessSacred Heart looks to move next to church

Sacred Heart looks to move next to church

Sacred Heart of Jesus High School isn’t closing, but the school leadership does plan to move.

There’s been a good amount of turnover at the small Catholic school located on McClellan Road in recent years.

Student enrollment is down to 68 total students in the four grades of high school.

And earlier this year, the school’s board decided to put the land and facilities that make up the school’s campus on McClellan Road on the real estate market to sell.

“I guess all of that gave reason to believe that other things were happening and that we might not have a school next year, but that’s not the case,” said Father Brian Timby, who’s serving as interim principal this semester but has been named the principal for the school going forward. “In fact, nothing much is really changing about how we do things.

“We intend to move our campus, but we don’t plan to alter much of anything else of what we do or how we do it.”

Sacred Heart began 20 years ago as a small Catholic high school that was not actually connected to the Catholic church or the Memphis diocese. The diocese does have authority over St. Mary’s Middle School that’s on the same grounds as St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the Highway 45 Bypass between North Parkway and Old Hickory Boulevard, but when parents in Jackson approached the leadership of the diocese in the 2000s about adding a high school to the mix, the regional church organization didn’t think it was the best idea.

“So Sacred Heart has never belonged to the church,” said Carla Thompson, college advisor for the school and longtime parent who was a part of the grassroots effort to start a high school in Jackson. “Oversight is done by our board, and the decisions about the school are made here by the board and the school leadership.

“We’re not connected at all to the church other than we want to make sure our students receive a Catholic school education that includes the teachings of Jesus Christ and ensuring they know how important He is to follow after high school.”

But in recent years, there have been a few changes in leadership in the Memphis diocese, and that new leadership – upon finding out there is a Catholic high school in Jackson – is actually asking why it’s not under the organization and authority of the diocese.

So the leadership of the Memphis diocese, the church in Jackson, St. Mary’s Middle School and Sacred Heart are all in agreement and are working toward moving Sacred Heart south to the campus on the bypass.

The planned construction will put the new high school next to the middle school on the back part of the current building structure as the road to the athletic fields on the back of the campus turns away from the front parking lot.

“The Catholic church doesn’t want to go into debt before doing any work, so we’re raising funds for the building before we start making the move,” said Carrie Prewitt, the school’s director of marketing.

The sale of the current campus would go toward the funds of the new building, so that would be a big reason to sell the campus.

“We would hope that whomever buys the property would allow us to lease it a year or two while we build the new building,” Timby said. “But that’s something that doesn’t need to be figured out until we get to that point.”

Timby mentioned there is one other significant change to the academic process for the students.

“Taking eight classes with five-minute breaks between each one for five days a week is too much for the students and the teachers,” Timby said. “So in August when classes resume after summer, our academic schedule each week will look a lot like a college schedule.

“They will have four classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then three classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Those classes on Tuesday and Thursday will be longer lengths of time in class than the four on the other days.”

Timby said that schedule will be easier on the students and the teachers because the teachers won’t have to spend time every day developing lesson plans every day.

Other aspects of the school – sports, theater and other extracurricular activities – will have the same look as those now at Sacred Heart now.

“One thing about Sacred Heart is anything that’s offered is offered because students said they wanted it,” Thompson said. “A few years ago, a young man named Blake Biggs came in and said he wanted to play golf, so I said, let’s start a golf team after I looked at the TSSAA website and figured out what actually constitutes a golf team, which is just one golfer.

“So I told him he can start a golf team, and he did. He’s at Mississippi State right now partially because of a leadership scholarship he got because he started this school’s golf program.”

There are other success stories. Austin Meadows went from Sacred Heart to Brown University. Many theater students have gone on to join various schools’ programs or professional acting troops.

“My daughter wanted to have a theater program at school, so I talked to the board and got a few friends gathered to help us get it started,” said former Sacred Heart parent Lisa Ragsdale, who helps with the school’s marketing. “If a student or group of students want to start something new, the leadership will take a step back and see what’s required and do its best to ensure that happens.”

And Timby said that will continue to happen until and after the school’s move to the bypass.

Both genders will have a soccer team. Basketball, baseball and softball will continue to be played as long as students are asking for it. The boys’ basketball team has won its district championship two of the last three years while the school didn’t have a girls’ team because no girls signed up to play.

Nothing has been decided yet on if the high school will still be called Sacred Heart, if it will come under the St. Mary’s banner or if some way to do both will happen to acknowledge both schools’ legacies.

“The point is to teach every student who enrolls here about what a relationship with Jesus Christ is, to foster that relationship for each child and do what we can to grow that for each student while they’re here,” Timby said. “And then let an education be a biproduct of that process.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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