‘The Time is Now’ for DeSales High School

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

deSales-art-wSt. Francis DeSales High School is launching a campaign that, while intended to raise money to support the school, is more than a fund-raising event.

According to DeSales High’s president, Doug Strothman, and its director of advancement, Josh Blandford, “The Time is Now” represents a vision intended to shape the Kenwood Dr. school’s future for years to come.

Sure, the contributions collected over the next few years — it’s hoped the number will approach $4 million to $5 million — will change the physical nature of the DeSales campus. But Strothman said the initiative is also intended to shape the school’s vision for itself and its community.

“We’re growing, and we’re continuing to get students from 19 different Catholic schools all across Jefferson County,” he explained during a recent interview at the school. “DeSales is not just for South End kids anymore — we’re getting students from St. Patrick, Holy Spirit, Holy Trinity, St. Rita, St. Gabriel, St. Michael and others.”

In fact, DeSales is getting so many new students from areas throughout Jefferson County that the school is inaugurating a bus service.

“We’ve turned a corner,” Strothman said. “We’ve solidified our future and solidified ourselves as a college preparatory school of high academic standards.”

The school’s achievements — which include winning its first football state championship last season — are proving to be a drawing card to students everywhere, Blandford noted. “Especially those students who appreciate our class size and the individual attention students can receive here.”

DeSales currently has 320 students — just eight years ago it had 270 — and while it has grown, both Strothman and Blandford believe the school’s relatively small size is a strength, not a negative.

“We’re dedicated to being that small, close-knit educational alternative for Catholic high school kids in this community,” Strothman explained. “Our alumni support is growing and during ‘The Time is Now’ kickoff event (held earlier this month at Churchill Downs) someone reminded me that at one time, this school had 800 students in it. We’d be crawling all over each other if we had that number of kids in here now.”

Strothman and Blandford said they don’t envision DeSales with a student body that would exceed 400 students. “If we get much larger than that, it would take away from some of the things that we think make us unique,” Blandford explained.

“We’re getting new students from new areas of our community,” he explained. “If we can get them to ‘shadow’ here (spend a day at DeSales with another student) then chances are really good that they’ll come here. We’re proof that bigger is not always better.”

Strothman said the school’s leaders “like our size.”

“We want to be true to our history and maintain and enjoy our special niche in local Catholic education,” he said.

The invitation-only kickoff event earlier this month was intended to introduce about 150 school and community leaders to the new vision for the future the school’s leaders have for DeSales. “It’s a strategic initiative, not a capital campaign,” Strothman explained. “Capital campaigns usually put a time limit on raising a particular amount of money and we’re not doing that.

“This is a long-term commitment to excellence, to academic rigor, to improving our physical plant,” he explained. “We want to do what the University of Louisville and Bellarmine have done and that’s provide a top-notch experience in all areas of our school’s activities, not just athletics. That’s our vision.”

And it is quite a vision with three major objectives, the two men explained.

First, the school wants to double its current $1 million tuition trust fund. “Right now we’re meeting about a third of the need for tuition assistance that our families have,” Strothman said. “Next year we want to meet closer to 45 percent of that need.”

The second objective is to continue renovation of the current school facilities — expanding and improving the school’s biology laboratory is a big part of that effort. There will also be new lockers for all students and an effort “to make sure all our classrooms are up to 21st century learning standards with 21 century teaching tools,” Strothman added.

The third objective will be “The Time is Now’s” most visible aspect — the creation of a new, multipurpose athletic stadium.

For years DeSales has been forced to play its “home” soccer and football games at fields belonging to other high schools. Once the stadium is built — “we’re hoping it will be field turf,” Strothman said — then “home” games really will be drawing DeSales graduates back “home.”

“The stadium will allow us to continue to build on the pride we have for our brothers who are playing football, baseball and soccer,” Blandford said. “And we think the new stadium will be a source of pride, not just for the school but for this part of town.”

Changes have already begun inside the DeSales building, with the renovation of the biology lab and locker replacement. “If we get the support we expect,” Strothman said, “then the exterior changes will begin in the next year or so.”

*This story was edited March 6 to correct the dollar amount of the school’s tuition trust fund.

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