As the sun sets on Bellarmine-Jefferson High School after a 74-year run in Burbank, a new institution is rising to take its place, connecting with alumni and forging its own future.
Kevin Baxter, superintendent of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, laid out a framework on Tuesday for the new school — called St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson — which included the hiring of founding director Jeff Hilger.
St. John Paul II STEM Academy is set to open in August 2019 on the former campus of Bellarime-Jefferson, located on 465 E. Olive Ave., which closed in June. The school is slated to have a co-educational policy, though the school is taking a unique position in splitting some classes by gender.
STEM refers to courses in science, technology, engineering and math.
“In those STEM subjects, we’re going to create single-gender classrooms,” Baxter said. “There’s a lot of research on this, where single-gender instruction can be a more effective model of instruction, while also having a co-education school, which gives you all the benefits of socialization.”
As for the selection of the school’s namesake, that choice came from a high office.
“The suggestion of St. John Paul II was from Archbishop [Jose] Gomez,” Baxter said. “His approach was that he’s a saint, a pope who visited Los Angeles (in 1987), he visited the United States multiple times and we don’t have a school named after him yet [in the diocese].”
In a way, St. John Paul II was also responsible for attracting its founding director.
“For about the past five years, I’d been seriously considering a move from the public-schools world to the Catholic-schools world,” said Hilger, a charter school guru who spent 20 years in public education, in an email.
“When I learned about the opportunity to open up a brand-new STEM academy on the site of Bellarmine-Jefferson, I became highly intrigued. When I learned that the school would be named in honor of St. John Paul II, I knew I had to apply. I’ve always had a great devotion to the pope of my youth. I’m honored and humbled to be starting a school named in his honor,” he added.
Full story at The LA Times.