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|The School of the Good Shepherd in Decherd, which was founded 103 years ago, marked its last day on Thursday, May 28. Eighth grader Olivia Gass, above photo, hugs her classmates. Photos by Andy Telli
Thirty-two students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, their teachers and parents said goodbye to the School of the Good Shepherd in Decherd, closing after 103 years of providing a Catholic education to children in Franklin County.
“It didn’t strike me until it actually happened,” said eighth grader Avery Wert, one of the school’s last graduates.
The parish announced it was closing the school because of years of low enrollment on Palm Sunday. “We’ve been doing what we could,” said Father Jean Baptiste Kyabuta, the pastor of Good Shepherd Church. “It’s like someone with a terminal illness. The doctor has done everything they could so now it’s time to let go.”
After the decision was made to close the school, Principal Kelly Doyle worried that there might have been more she could have done to save it, she said. “Finally, I said, ‘God, you’ve got to take this.’ When I did that I knew it was OK.”
She told the faculty, “We’re going to go out in a blaze of glory and dignity and grace,” Doyle said. “I don’t believe you go out wringing your hands … that’s not me.”
So the staff made the final weeks a celebration of the school and what it’s meant for the students, their families, the parish and the community.
Each year the school hosts a Fine Arts Festival, highlighting the students’ art work throughout the year, including art exhibits, a performance by the school band, and a Shakespearean play. The students and faculty were determined this year’s festival would be the best ever, Doyle said, “and I think it truly was.”
|Jeb Martin places a shovel of dirt over the roots of a tree the students and faculty planted in front of the school. Each child and teacher took turns shoveling the dirt.
For the last day of school on Thursday, May 28, the students spent the morning on a field trip to Tenacity Adventure Fitness in Tracy City and then returned to celebrate the end of the school. A tree was planted in front of the school building and each student and teacher placed a shovel of dirt around the roots. Beside the tree was a stone engraved: “SGS – Teachers plant the seeds of knowledge that last a lifetime.”
“I like the way we’re going to end up by planting this tree,” Father Kyabuta said. “For me it’s a sense of hope. This tree is going to grow. It’s a new sign of new life that comes from God.”
Then the students released balloons that were carrying messages they had written about their favorite memory of the school.
One simply said, “All of it.”
Lauren Dawe wrote, “Being able to hang out with friends like it was my house and they were family.”
And Lauren Rogers wrote, “Good Shepherd was the place where several of my dreams came true. I did awesome art, science experiments and a talent show. Best of all, I made great friends. Even though I wasn’t here long, I’ll never forget my status as a SGS alumni.”
“I think it’s been perfect,” Joy Snead, who has taught at the school for 21 years, said of the last day. “The tree and the balloons were all so meaningful.”
|Teachers and parent, photo below, watch as balloons released by the students float away. Each balloon carried a message from a student about their favorite memory of the school.
Doyle said she was proud of the teachers’ professionalism after hearing the news of the school’s closing. “Some of the teachers saw it as a door opening for a new direction in their career,” Doyle said.
Snead and fellow teacher Katie Tankersly are starting a new business, the Knowledge Nook, which will offer educational enrichment programs for area students.
“I kind of knew it was coming, but it’s very sad,” Snead said of the decision to close the school. “I was baptized here, I was married here, I’ve been here my whole life.”
All three of Lorie Wert’s children have attended Good Shepherd and she’s worked part-time in the office, taught art and was the assistant cross country coach.
“I was devastated” to hear the school was closing, she said. “I cried and cried and cried.”
Among the things that made the school special, she said, were “the environment, the small size of the school, the fact that I knew everybody. It’s like a family.”
Like Wert, Felicia Martin’s association with Good Shepherd started as a parent and grew into work as a volunteer and eventually as a teacher. All three of her children attended Good Shepherd and her youngest, Jeb, was a sixth grader this year.
She was looking for a kindergarten for her oldest daughter and had a friend who worked in the school office. “I knew it was small with a good Christian environment, that they would be watched over” Martin said.
The plan was to keep her daughter at Good Shepherd for a year, but she had such a good experience Martin kept her there through eighth grade and her other two children followed.
“It’s a family here,” Martin said. “I couldn’t leave.” She taught at the school for three years and then became a volunteer working in the library and helping students with their science experiments.
Her children “have had this small, loving Christian environment” where moral values were instilled in them, Martin said. “As my kids grow older, it’s still present.”
The school opened in 1903 in a converted home near the town square in Winchester as St. Francis de Sales Academy. It was staffed by four sisters from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. The school finished its first year with 60 students.
In 1906, the name was changed to Winchester Academy, and in 1907, a new school building was built next to Good Shepherd Church in Winchester.
Nearly 60 years later, with the old building in disrepair, a new school was built on its current location on U.S. 41A in Decherd. After a fire destroyed the church, a new church was built next to the school and dedicated in 1969.
Throughout its history, the school has been supported by the community, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
“If you wanted an alternative to public education, it was the place to send your children,” said Joanne Davis, who taught at the school from 1968 to 1978.
“I was there in the heyday of the school,” said Davis, a non-Catholic who sent three of her four children to Good Shepherd. Enrollment was between 120 and 140 students, she said. “There were as many non-Catholics as Catholics.”
“There was a great respect for the school, the nuns, the lay teachers,” Davis said. “It was just a wonderful place to work. … You had smaller classrooms. You had parents who sacrificed to send their children there,” she added.
Davis taught social studies, English and reading for fifth graders through eighth graders. That meant she could have the same child in class for four years. “There’s an advantage to having a child for that length of time. You get to really know the children,” Davis said.
“You also teach families. I always taught a Gibson, I always taught a Gallagher, I always taught a Smith, I always taught a Johnson,” she added. “I always thought that was neat.”
When Davis heard the school was closing, “I was sick,” she said. “The instruction was as good as it ever was. Kelly Doyle did a fantastic job.”
She quickly volunteered to help organize a celebration of the life of the school for the community, which was held on Friday, May 29. “I wanted to be part of it,” Davis said. “Part of me will always be there.”
The celebrataion “was wonderful. We had a really good turnout,” Davis said.
Lorie Wert shed a few tears as she participated in the final good-bye to the school. “I’ve been really attached to this school.”