As the only Catholic high school in Gainesville, the mission of St. Francis Catholic High School is to develop the students who attend into leaders who exhibit “service, faith, community, honor and scholarship in the Catholic tradition.”
The school opened in 2004 after increasing demand for a local Catholic high school. “There were people who wanted the school since 1959, but the population had to be able to support it,” said Ernest D. Herrington Jr., principal of St. Francis.
Today, the school has close to two hundred and fifty students enrolled and over thirty faculty and staff members.
History of Student Success
The students at St. Francis, which averages about 60 student graduates per year, are considered to be the school’s biggest accomplishment, according to Herrington.
One factor that Herrington believes has helped students succeed is the school’s use of laptops. After visiting other schools and exchanging ideas, St. Francis decided to commit to the idea of technology in the classroom.
The 2010-2011 freshman class was provided with laptops, which the students leased. When the students graduated, they took the laptops with them. Since then, each incoming class has received laptops. Herrington believes that by providing laptops, St. Francis students are able to develop the skills they need to prosper in college and in the workforce.
Herrington and his staff are proud of the student body’s accomplishments, which include high acceptance rates to top universities, multiple National Merit finalists, a graduate recently named a Gov. Bob Orr Indiana Entrepreneurial Fellow and a 2013 Spirit of Gainesville Award winner.
Students at St. Francis have also found success with the more than 22 sports teams (including varsity and junior varsity) offered at the school. The baseball, basketball, golf, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball teams have all won numerous awards including regional and district championships.
The school also supports more than 20 clubs, including a robotics team that started in 2014 and was invited to compete in the 2014 world competition in St. Louis, Missouri. In all, 93 percent of the school’s students are involved in extracurricular activities, but Herrington says the school is striving for 100 percent involvement in the future.
“The kids, with the support of the community and the staff, have done a lot in a very short amount of time,” he said. “It goes back to that faith community — being part of something bigger than yourself.”
Giving back to the community is important to the students at St. Francis, where individual students average 2,500 community service hours a year. The school also collects items for local Catholic charities and food drives. However, the school doesn’t only cater to Catholic causes as 25 percent of students and staff at St. Francis are of different faith backgrounds.
Looking to the Future
The next steps for the high school range from simple additions to a 250-student enrollment increase in the next five to ten years. The last missing piece, a cafetorium — a combination of a cafeteria and auditorium — will include a stage and a creative arts room.
Wi-Fi across the entire school, including the outside fields, is another five-year goal. But, Herrington said some basics in the athletic field are also missing, including lights for the softball and baseball field, bleachers and concession stands and most importantly, a real bathroom, which will all be installed in the next few years.
What started as a Catholic school that had been a long time coming has become a place that cultivates a faith community of learning. Although St. Francis has been around for only ten years, the caliber of students it graduates sets this school apart from the rest.