by Carro Ford Weston
Don’t let the small size fool you. St. Agatha Academy offers just about everything families could want for their children. Students run track and play basketball. There’s a student council, a chess club, cheerleading, scouting, buses, hot lunches and a beloved crossing guard. Steady Mrs. Gilbert holds down the front office. “Just running late?” she always asks sympathetically as she writes out slips for the occasional tardy ones.
Most parents feel this intimate size works to the advantage of the tight-knit, family-oriented community. The compact student population – typically less than 200 – means children get a very personal education. Everyone knows, watches out for and encourages all the kids.
Approaching a Century of Education
Some community schools are mainstays in their community, and St. Agatha Academy, founded in 1919 by the Sisters of Divine Providence, is one of those. For almost 100 years, St. Agatha has been a part of the Winchester community. Originally, it served as a boarding school as well as a local grade school and high school. Today the parish school of St. Joseph Catholic Church, St. Agatha has prospered through many changes, holding true to the founding mission of providing spiritual and academic training to nurture the whole child.
Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, athletes, scholars and others have passed through the school’s doors on their way to lives in Winchester and in far-flung places. For over fifty years, the annual St. Agatha Spaghetti Supper has united the community, parents and the school over hearty plates of pasta and fellowship. In 2010, Winchester Sun newspaper readers voted St. Agatha the best Montessori program and 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 they named it the best elementary school in the area.
New Principal Energizes School Community
The oldest private school in Winchester, St. Agatha Academy is now undergoing an electric rejuvenation under the leadership of Principal John Pica, who made a stunning decision to change careers midlife and take on the job of guiding the small, thriving school.
The new principal has over 19 years of administrative experience at the University of Kentucky. He also has invested 15 years as a parent within the St. Agatha Academy community, which makes him uniquely qualified to lead the faculty, staff and students. While at the University of Kentucky, he served as Associate Dean for Finance and Administration and Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management & Assessment in the UK College of Arts & Sciences. Pica also served two UK colleges as Associate Director of Student and Academic Services. Now he brings the ideas and approaches he acquired at the vibrant state university to the tiny, committed campus in Winchester.
The change has unified the community of parents, families, and parishioners. From serving spaghetti dinners to thousands in Winchester, to writing grants for visionary goals like a state-of-the-art science and technology lab, there’s a renewed interest in helping the school succeed.From parents to grandparents, volunteers have stepped up for fundraisers, classroom support and wherever help is needed.
Multifaceted Growth Environment
From the charmingly quaint old graduation photos off the lobby to the computer and language labs upstairs, the spirit and personality of the historic school are evident everywhere. Montessori students spout the geography of Central America, while savvy middle school entrepreneurs market a revolving array of healthy snacks and school supplies from their lobby kiosk. And if there’s a student in the vicinity, you can bet the front door will be held open for any visitor passing through.
St. Agatha offers a strong learning environment, from three year-old preschool through eighth grade, with 12 full and four part-time faculty members. Each class is usually capped at 22 students, and children establish a secure educational and social foundation that is quite unique.
The traditional curriculum feeds off strong academic programs in literature, reading, writing, science, mathematics, social studies and religion. It’s probably the reason a higher percentage of St. Agatha graduates rank in the upper tier of their high school classes, and so many go on to be valedictorians, salutatorians, and governor’s scholars. Each year, St. Agatha consistently boasts an impressive percentage of Duke Tip Kids, which is Duke University’s program to identify high achieving students.
Teachers: Involved, Encouraging and Out of the Box
The teaching team is extremely qualified. Most of the faculty hold Master’s degrees and more than fifty percent have 15 or more years of teaching experience. Some St. Agatha veterans are now teaching the second generation of school families. Other teachers have own their own children enrolled in the school. These educators believe that kids learn in different ways, and they offer each child the chance to develop their strengths and interests. From PowerPoint book reports to “Banana Day,” the approaches to learning take many creative twists.
Preparing the Computer Generation
Despite its traditional background and near century of service, St. Agatha is very much a modern school. The computer lab offers multi-media and Internet training, along with 28 PCs for computer classes. In addition to the expanded, computer-equipped library, every classroom also has its own PCs with multi-media, Internet and wireless network access points throughout the campus. Although the traditional black board and chalk still grace every room,faculty also use “smart boards,” chalk board-size computer touch-screens that put a variety of curriculum and resources front and center for the class.
Accredited Academics Balanced by Arts and Athletics
Parents who want the reassurance of an accredited private school education for their children should know that Saint Agatha is the only private school in Clark County accredited by the Kentucky Non-Public Schools Commission. This means the school complies with the standards and criteria of the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education. Through strong academic programming, Saint Agatha has started the stringent process of acquiring advanced regional accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
From the beginning, the school’s mission has been to provide consistent spiritual and academic challenges to develop the whole child.But while academic achievements distinguish the school, many other facets contribute to the enriching environment. Learning is balanced by a variety of creative, challenging educational experiences, from interactive learning centers and activities to overnight beyond-the-classroom opportunities.
For a school of its size, St. Agatha offers an impressive number of special classes and extracurricular activities. Physical education, Latin, music and band join sports like soccer, basketball and cheerleading, and a state-ranked cross country team, and track & field as outlets for students. Extended Day/After-care programs cater to the needs of working parents and caregivers.
Service Projects and Civic-Mindedness
Through service projects, St. Agatha students develop civic-minded attitudes, a work ethic and their volunteer spirit. Projects have included a Thanksgiving food drive, Christmas gifts for needy children, winter coat collections, supplies for the animal shelter, and an ongoing food pantry. All sixth grade students sew quilts for a local pregnancy center. Through can collecting, others raise money to help children with cleft palates and to help acquire livestock for struggling families in other countries. Through the Kentucky Youth Assembly, middle school students learn about government and leadership.
An Invitation to See For Yourself
For a vibrant, consistent learning environment, parents, students, families from Winchester and the surrounding area have counted on St. Agatha Academy and its supporters. Today, the energy in this small school community continues to nurture strong relationships among parents, parishioners, alumni, and friends of Saint Agatha Academy, and that’s a big advantage.
Principal Pica, the teachers, students and entire St. Agatha community invite parents and families to visit and tour the campus. Don’t be surprised if the student who holds the door for you asks if there are any empty cans in your car to donate to the latest cause.
For more information about St. Agatha Academy:
John Pica, Principal – email: [email protected]
Carro Ford Weston is a freelance writer whose own two sons attended St. Agatha Academy. You can reach her at [email protected]