Enrollment at Reicher Catholic High School has steadily declined in recent years, but officials said the school is about to undergo a $400,000 renovation that will help improve its competitiveness and bring students in.

Reicher’s enrollment has fallen from 205 students in 2013 to 147 going into this year, but Principal Mindy Taylor said the 28 percent decline isn’t an issue. Enrollment has ebbed and flowed for the past 20 years, and the renovation will ensure students have the best options to prepare them for college.

“There’s never just one thing that contributes to a change in enrollment,” Taylor said. “To me, it’s the overall experience and that’s what we’re working on, improving the overall experience for every student. We don’t want to just be marketing to but one type of student. We want everyone to come here and get a great experience in all subject areas.”

The donation-funded renovation will upgrade science classrooms into state-of-the-art science, technology, engineering and math labs. It will also add a theater class, Taylor said.

The work will let the school build on its quality instruction and adapt to a world where science is increasingly important, Reicher’s new Vice Principal Ed Miller said.

“I’ve been in education for 30-something years, and in public schools and Catholic schools, and I can tell you this is a good school,” Miller said. “I think these renovations will continue to keep it good, but also make it great.”

But science isn’t the only area the school is expanding, Taylor said.

Part of Reicher’s library will be turned into a communications lab where students can learn how to run board meetings and give business presentations using interactive televisions and projectors, she said.

The library is already hosting part of the school’s mock trial class, which was brought back because of renewed interest this school year after a four-year hiatus, Taylor said.

The school is also improving communication with parents with weekly announcements, newsletters, roundtables and more open house events. And school officials are letting students take on broad roles in planning schoolwide activities, Taylor said.

Suzanne Hack, a Reicher parent and attorney, has volunteered this year to teach one mock trial course every morning, five days a week, she said. She loves how Reicher’s small size and flexibility allows students to come up with ideas and implement them, Hack said. The school’s focus communication shows how critical real-world experiences are for Reicher students, she said.

“It’s one of the reasons why there ended up being such a big demand for mock trial and one of the reasons why the engineering program’s been so successful, too,” Hack said. “The kids know those are things the students are interested in pursuing as careers. When you’re at a place where they offer those types of experiences for you, to try and determine, ‘Hey, is this something you really like? Is this something you’re really interested in?’ Then, yeah, that’s absolutely going to draw kids into those programs.”

The school recently started offering four years of engineering classes, up from two, and added computer programming classes, Taylor said. Its new math curriculum is aimed at providing a seamless transition to college math classes and aligns directly with math instruction at Baylor University and the University of Texas at Austin, she said.

Moving the other way on the educational ladder, Reicher is implementing a plan to provide a seamless Catholic education from prekindergarten to 12th grade by coordinating with St. Louis Catholic School in Waco and St. Mary’s Catholic School in West and aiming to keep those students in the local Catholic system.

The renovations will be done during the summer to avoid disrupting classes, Taylor said. Though this school year is still fresh, the renovation plans and new opportunities already have students, including sophomore Bryce Tonkin, looking forward to next year.

“It’s really cool we get to continue to grow and get better and try new things,” Tonkin said. “I’m looking forward to the new labs and trying mock trial and maybe doing strength and conditioning, trying a lot of classes I didn’t get to do this year. I’m in sports: football, power lifting and track. That’s why you go to Reicher. You get to do everything.”

Design details for the renovation aren’t complete yet, but Taylor said the school’s architect could have the designs ready by Oct. 26, the same day Reicher will host a Coffee with the Principal event 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. The event will give parents a chance to meet Miller, hear an update on the new math curriculum and learn more about the renovations, Taylor said.

“It just livens up the whole school. We have a great fine arts program and English department. Our Catholic identity is really strong,” Taylor said. “Now with the new math curriculum, that brings them up to that (higher) level. And we’ll have our new STEM labs, our biology, physics and chemistry labs and that just gets it firing on all cylinders like the rest of it.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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