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St. Joseph Academy promises enhanced curriculum at ribbon cutting
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St. Joseph Academy promises enhanced curriculum at ribbon cutting


HAMMONTON — Bob Perri has watched his children and grandchildren go through the St. Joseph school system.

After a tumultuous few months that began with the Diocese of Camden announcing the closing of the schools, the 74-year-old was grateful for the community coming together to keep his family’s educational home intact.

“It’s unbelievable,” Perri said. “It’s a relief. The kids know where they’re going. The not knowing if they were going to have a home was really killing them. It really was.”

The work put in since April culminated in Saturday’s ribbon cutting for St. Joseph Academy, the new K-12 school replacing St. Joseph High and Elementary schools. The school welcomed parents, students and alumni for food, music and games ahead of its first day of classes Sept. 21.

Ja’son Prevard, a junior football player, said multiple schools reached out when he, as far as they were concerned, was no longer a St. Joseph player. He’s happy he no longer has to make that decision.

“(I was) very afraid,” Prevard said of the possibility of having to finish his playing career elsewhere. “I woke up one morning, and my phone was buzzing, saying that I don’t have a school. A lot of schools contacted me, but I didn’t want to feed into it. I wanted to stay here.”

The diocese announced April 17 that it would be closing St. Joseph as well as Wildwood Catholic High School due to declining enrollment. Wildwood Catholic took a similar route to St. Joseph, becoming Wildwood Catholic Academy after successful fundraising allowed it to merge with Cape Trinity Catholic Elementary School to form a pre-K-12 academy.

St. Joseph Academy will be led by Principal Lynn Domenico, who was St. Joseph High School’s principal until 2016 before moving up to higher education. Domenico said one of her priorities is to make the new academy a model for academics across the state and beyond.

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“You’re going to work hard, so get ready (and) fasten your seat belts,” Domenico said in addressing students.

As a result of the schools’ initial closure in April, total enrollment went from around 200 to 150. Domenico hopes to bring those numbers back up.

In addition to changes to the curriculum, there will be an increased focus on SAT prep, dual-credit courses and a program to guarantee early admission into college.

Starting this year, girls will be able to enroll in what Domenico called a young women’s leadership institute. It will include meetings with guest speakers to show students what women are capable of achieving.

“I do think with the focus on sports here ... rightfully so, we have such a wonderful football team that gets a lot of the press, and the basketball team’s been coming on strong,” Domenico said. “But I think sometimes the young women get overlooked, and there’s a lot for them to participate in and do.”

Several new hires were also made to fill out teaching positions. Michael McGuckin, a 2018 Rowan University graduate, will teach math, physics and music at the new school. It will be his first official teaching job.

“It’s exciting,” McGuckin said. “It’s going to be a challenge but a great opportunity for us to build something completely new and really establish a great academic program here.”

School board members emphasized the importance of parental involvement in school events to make sure the academy is here to stay. For Perri, there’s no doubt this is the beginning of a bright future.

“I actually believe that this is just the start,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things to come, and once we start showing people that this is here to stay, it will grow. It will get bigger.”

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