New school to offer specialized education

A rendering depicting a classroom at the Holy Trinity Clifton Campus School highlighted a learning space equipped with modular furniture, flexible layouts and sensory activities. The school is designed specifically for children in second-, third- and fourth-grades with language-based learning differences. Registration for fall 2019 is now open. (Artist rendering special to The Record)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

When Shannon Barr learned her child would no longer be able to attend her regional Catholic school she was devastated.

“It was never a question in my mind that I would send my kids to a Catholic school. When Ryan started kindergarten, we quickly realized he would not be successful there or at any Catholic school,” she said.

Ryan, age 7, has language-based learning difficulties and needs a more individualized curriculum in order to be successful in the classroom.

While Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville offer some individualized educational plans for students who have learning disabilities, they are unable to accommodate students who require more intensive one-on-one instruction.

A new school set to open in the fall of 2019 hopes to change that reality for the Barrs and other families.

The parish community at Holy Trinity Church in St. Matthews will open a secondary campus designed specifically for children with language-based learning differences. The Holy Trinity Clifton Campus School will be located in the former Clifton Center, which was once St. Frances of Rome School, 2117 Payne Street. It will serve children in second-, third- and fourth-grades beginning next fall. Registration is now open.

Paula Watkins, head of the new school, said it will address

the needs of children who need more specific and targeted-language intervention.

Watkins, who currently serves as the director of student achievement at Holy Trinity’s St. Matthews campus, said during an interview last week that it’s heartbreaking to tell parents their child won’t be successful in a typical classroom at a Catholic school.

“We want all students, regardless of their learning profile, to receive a Catholic education,” she said.

Focus on language-
based learning needs

The mission of Holy Trinity Clifton Campus is to make Catholic education available to more students in the archdiocese no matter their learning style, Watkins said.

School leaders decided to address language-based learning differences after conducting surveys and conversations with elementary principals, teachers and learning coordinators. School leaders were asked to identify how many students left for alternative placement and for what reason.

“The majority of students who left, hands-down, were those with a language-based learning disability.

“These children have parents that want their kids in a Catholic environment. I knew we needed to think outside the box,” she said.

Watkins said many students with a language-based learning disability present with average to above average aptitude but learn differently. This may include students diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or anxiety.

The Holy Trinity Clifton Campus School will use the Orton-Gillingham literacy program, which emphasizes visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, Watkins said.

The goal, Watkins said, is for the child to transition back to their parish elementary school or to prepare them for a Catholic high school.

Classrooms will be equipped with modular furniture, flexible layouts and sensory activities. Speech, occupational, art and music therapies will also be offered.

Students at Holy Trinity Clifton Campus will have all the same services as students on the St. Matthews campus, including school Masses, religious instruction, special assemblies, sports, activities and after-school care.

Holy Trinity’s theater arts program will also be housed at the Clifton campus.

Watkins said an intensive program for students with learning differences has been talked about for a number of years. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and learning coordinator at archdiocesan schools for 18 years, first at Mother of Good Counsel School and later at St. Francis of Assisi School before coming to Holy Trinity.

“We have to figure out alternative ways to reach children who are leaving us. This has been talked about for a long time,” she said. “I think we need to get more creative.”

An answer to prayers

Barr, a teacher at Trinity High School, said the opening of Holy Trinity Clifton Campus feels like an answer to her prayers.

“I don’t think I can put into words what this means to me. This is what I prayed for, to find the right fit for Ryan. I truly believe with all my heart that this is an answer to a lot of families’ prayers,” said Barr, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.

Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the opening of the Holy Trinity Clifton Campus fills a need in the archdiocese.

“We know some students enroll (in Catholic schools) and may need to leave for a time and re-enroll or some leave and do not return,” she said during an interview Oct. 29. “We also know that some families may not even apply at a Catholic school because they are not sure if their needs can be met.”

Schulz noted the new school will help fulfill a component of the Catholic Elementary School Plan.

The Catholic Elementary School Plan was introduced by the Archdiocese of Louisville in November 2014 and aimed: to expand access to all schools in order to serve more Catholic families; to increase financial support for families; and to develop new structures to expand the availability of Catholic schools to underserved populations.

The plan, Schulz said, encourages educators to look outside current paradigms and “think how we can do things different.”

She also noted the recent discernment process parishes took part in during the last year.

“It encouraged parishes to look at ways they can serve the members of the parish as well as the community and individuals that are not currently or not yet part of the parish community,” she said.

She said Holy Trinity recognized that within their own school population there were students who needed a level of instruction and resources they could not provide.

“I think we are very blessed and fortunate that Holy Trinity has this opportunity. The parish has embraced it and is really looking to serve not only the students in the Holy Trinity parish community but also students who have language-based learning needs,” she said.


Holy Trinity Clifton Campus will open initially for students in second-, third- and fourth-grades and add a classroom each year until it is a fully enrolled K-8 school with a 11:2 student to teacher ratio. The tuition will be $15,000 per year, which is comparable to other independent and non-private schools of this type in Louisville, Watkins said.

Families will be eligible to apply for tuition assistance through the Catholic Education Foundation.

Those interested in learning more about the Holy Trinity Clifton Campus School can visit or contact Paula Watkins by phone at 897-2785 or email at

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