By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany news bureau
SLIDELL – With a recent study predicting growth in St. Tammany Parish to skyrocket in coming years, First Baptist Christian School in Slidell is ready to get ahead of the curve after a generous donation of over $500,000 has enabled them to purchase 30 acres of land directly next to the existing church and school property.
The land purchase was completed with school growth in mind and Principal Mona Nelson said it is tremendously enhancing the plan they already had to enlarge the school which now has nearly 250 students.
First Baptist Christian School (FBCS) opened its doors in 1989 to offer a private education with Christian values to local students. Now offering first through 12th grades, the school operates in a facility with 17 classrooms with school leaders working on a plan in recent years to build 24 more classrooms.
First Baptist Church and School sit on approximately 20 acres of land on Pontchartrain Drive and began hosting meetings with church members interested in expanding the school.
With a 30 acre parcel of land directly next to the existing land, south of their current footprint, Nelson said she was sitting in the meeting when a church member surprisingly offered to put up the money for the land—approximately $550,000.
“At first there were two men who were talking about splitting the cost, then suddenly he leaned over to me and said ‘I’ll buy the entire thing.’” Of course I was so surprised,” she said. “The only way to react is to say that God is amazing.”
Incredibly, the school has a theme for the 2017-2018 year that had been selected long ago: “God is on the move.”
Nelson and her Assistant Principal Lisa Brooks said it seemed so appropriate to have such an incredible donation for the school when that theme was already selected.
The church member making the donation asked to remain anonymous, Nelson said, but she noted “he wanted to help the school grow and was matter of fact about offering that amount of money. It’s truly an amazing thing—God has always provided for this school and we saw it happen again.”
Nelson also announced that the school recently achieved two important certifications that continue to show their commitment to excellence. With Brooks’ assistance the school spent the past two years meeting all the standards to be accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and were also certified as an Advanced Education school. They had received Louisiana state certification in the early 2000s.
“These certifications are important to us to since it confirms to parents that we are doing all the right things,” Nelson said. “We knew that we were—but to have an outside, independent organization come to your school to see it all assures parents that we are meeting very high standards.”
They received the recent ACSI accreditation after months of filling out reports and forms, and displaying to the organization they were meeting many top rated standards. Topics included School Foundation, Philosophy, Governance, Executive Leadership, Community Relations, Instructional Programs and Resources, Student Care, Character and Values.
“The final step to pass was when ACSI officials sent a team to our school to talk to parents, teachers and students over a four-day period, and to see first-hand that we were doing all the right things,” Brooks said. “We knew we had all the things in place, but this was a rubber stamp to show others that we aren’t just saying it, but have it confirmed by an outside organization that it is all being done.”
Brooks, with 28 years in Christian and public schools, came on board to First Baptist three years ago and had previously gone through an ACSI approval process.
Nelson, with 22 years in education and the past 11 years as principal at First Baptist, said the school is now ready to move forward for the next major phase in its history. They expect to have a new building site plan ready in about two months that will include a new gymnasium, cafeteria, library, 24 buildings and administrative offices.
With the current school situated behind the church as it faces Pontchartrain Drive, the new school buildings will also be situated further off the frontage of the 30 acres so all school facilities are next to each other. In the past two years First Baptist recently constructed a youth center and also built a track.
The school currently offers sports that include basketball, swimming, volleyball, track, cross country and girls softball. The question about ever adding the expensive football program is one that Nelson said she is asked on a regular basis.
“We are very aware of trying to have a football team one day, but that is a big undertaking. For now, the top priority is to construct the new buildings so we are ready for the growth that is coming,” she remarked.
Nelson said they also hope to construct a softball and baseball field in the next expansion project that is expected to cost “several million dollars.” The school has maintained an ongoing building fund and is currently evaluating total cost for construction and what it will take to get it done.