New St. John Academy classes to begin Aug. 22

Interim principal, football coach in place

BELLAIRE — The new St. John Academy is scheduled to open its doors for the first day of school on Aug. 22, board member Johnetta Yaegel said.

Yaegel noted that because of donor commitments, the private school will be able to offer free tuition to incoming freshmen. Other students’ tuition already is locked in based on the rates they now pay at St. John Central high School. All of the existing students from St. John Central, which is scheduled to close for good after this school year, pay reduced tuition because of scholarships they have received.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville announced in February that it was going to close St. John Central because of declining enrollment and rising costs associated with the school. A group of alumni decided to take action and began a campaign to save the school. Though the new school will not be affiliated with the diocese, the diocese has said it will give the current high school building to the academy. The academy also will get to use most of the high school’s memorabilia, along with the traditional St. John Fighting Irish mascot and green and white colors.

The board — which includes alumni Yaegel, Joseph Steele, Stacey Griffiths and Christopher Bryniarski — estimated previously that it needed to raise about $800,000 to reopen the school next fall. Yaegel said the new school now has “angel donors” and corporate sponsors who have committed to provide enough money to keep the school open for the next five years. The school, however, still needs other donations, she added.

“The angel donors who came together decided they are going to fund the school, either corporations or out of their own pockets. We got a guarantee from them that we will make it through for our five-year plan,” she said.

Yaegel said the angel donors wish to remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, the academy has hired Selina Brooks, a teacher at St. John Central Grade School, as the academy’s interim principal. Brooks has a bachelor’s degree in interdepartmental studies/social studies and a master’s degree in secondary education, both from West Virginia University. She currently teaches social studies, reading and English at the grade school.

The board has hired a marketing company, EM Media, to promote the academy. It also has hired a football coach, John Durdines. According to the academy, Durdines rebuilt Bishop Donahue’s football team in the early 2000s and “has agreed to do the same for the Academy as soon as there is a bump in enrollment of boys who want to play football.”

“Durdines took over at Bishop Donahue in 2002 with just 14 players. He built a small school power in short order, compiling a 90-69 overall record while posting winning seasons in 11 of his final 12 years, including five West Virginia state playoff appearances,” the academy noted in a press release.

“A memorable line from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ is ‘build it and they will come.’ Well, in our case it’s ‘come and we will build it,'” Durdines said. “What we accomplished at Bishop Donahue can definitely be replicated at St. John Central Academy. I’m thrilled and honored to be part of it.”

The academy plans to offer other sports, but with an estimated enrollment of 50-55 students it is difficult to predict what sports the students will want to play, Yaegel said.

To help recruit new students, the academy is holding another open house at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the basement of St. John Catholic Church, located beside the school. A dinner will be offered as well.

Scholarship money to attend the academy may be available to students via the Ohio EdChoice Scholarship Program. And special needs students can attend for free via the Jon Peterson Scholarship, Yaegel said.

“We are being quite transparent that a huge early objective of ours is to build our enrollment numbers as fast as possible. We will do everything we can to make it happen for any parent or guardian who comes to us with a desire to give their child the best education possible,” Griffiths said. “Please don’t think you can’t afford it. We are prepared to help.”

“Tuition for the upcoming school year is $4,830; however, there are a number of tuition reducing opportunities such as grants, scholarships and other discounts and incentives,” Yaegel added.

For more information about St. John Academy, call Yaegel at 740-238-8469.

Meanwhile, a separate group of parents and educators at St. John Grade School is awaiting a decision from the diocese’s Bishop Jeffrey Monforton about their plan for the grade school. If the plan is not approved, the grade school will not re-open in the fall, officials have said.