The trees and overgrowth have been trimmed, a new Lycee Francais banner hangs from the roof, lights are being installed, and for the first time in decades, schoolchildren will soon begin gathering at the former Priestley campus in west Carrollton in the mornings.
The tree trimming and new lights are intended to open the Priestley campus up, making it brighter for neighbors, said Lycee Francais CEO Keith Bartlett on Monday. The property also has a new fence, to make the site more secure, he said.
“We want the property to be well-lit enough so that it’s not a black hole in the middle of the neighborhood,” Bartlett said Monday, after a brief meeting of the Lycee Francais board. “If any kind of activity is going on there, it could be viewed from the street.”
The work is only preliminary, intended to stabilize the property while Lycee Francais dives into the long-term project of renovating the Priestley school after three decades of disuse. The school is considering hiring a professional consultant to help guide them through that process, Bartlett noted.
But another major addition — schoolchildren — is also coming this fall, as the school uses the property as a gathering point for neighborhood children who will ride the bus to the Patton Street campus. Bartlett said the school administration is negotiating among several bus companies that submitted bids (most of which were in the $45,000 range) to provide bus service from Priestley to Patton Street and back before and after school each day.
The school has identified 43 students that live within a mile of the Priestley campus who will be eligible for the bus service. The school also already provides RTA bus tokens to families whose children are eligible for free and reduced lunches, and Bartlett said he will offer all of them the opportunity to use the Priestley bus as well. If seats are still vacant after that, he said, he will continue to offer them to other families until the bus is full.
“My intent is to have a full bus coming here,” Bartlett said. “Every family that puts their child on the bus takes one more car out of this neighborhood.”
Enrollment has meanwhile continued to surge at Lycee Francais, Bartlett said, as the coming year’s enrollment is now 628 students, up 15 from just a month ago. The increase is in part due to an unexpected decrease in attrition — the school generally expects to lose about 9 percent of the students from each grade above first grade each year (because they cannot be replaced with children who are not fluent in French), but instead the figures have been about half that.
The Lycee Francais purchase of the Priestley school provoked controversy among a group of neighborhood activists who called themselves the P-Town Project, and grafitti on the back of the Priestley gym still decries “land theft.” But on Monday evening, a neighbor sitting outside her Joliet Street home said that sentiment was not shared by the neighbors, who are happy to see the school coming back to life as a school.
“It looks much better,” said Rhonda Daniels, who attended Priestley herself in the late 1970s. “I’m glad to see another school is going in there. We’re happy another school is going there, and nothing else.”
Daniels said she would have preferred a district-run school, but that she believes the French-immersion charter school is still a major improvement over the vacant property. Even with the renovation years away, running daily buses now to the Patton Street campus will make Lycee Francais more accessible to children in the Priestley neighborhood, Daniels said.
“That’s a big start,” Daniels said.