St. Jude, CHS earn awards


By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

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Students at St. Jude the Apostle School in Baton Rouge celebrate the announcement that St. Jude was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. It is the school’s first Blue Ribbon award. Catholic High School in Baton Rouge was also named a Blue Ribbon School for an historic six time. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator


St. Jude the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge, nestled on the fringes of the Gardere area, is generally considered the most culturally and economically diverse parish in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. 

Now St. Jude the Apostle School can proudly boast as being one of the best in the Baton Rouge area. 

St. Jude, along with Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, were each recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. The announcement was made Sept. 24. 

The award was St. Jude’s first, as well as the first time it had applied for the honor. CHS won the award for a national record sixth time, its first since 2014. 

“I’m just so excited for our community,” said St. Jude principal Michelle Gardner as she celebrated in the school gym, where several teachers, the third grade class and pastor Father Trey Nelson had gathered to watch the announcement. 

“This is absolutely amazing and well deserved by everyone; our parents, our students, our faculty, our church parish,” she added. “I’m excited for our community (because) our school is really a gem. It is small compared to some other Catholic schools in the diocese but that uniqueness of our school size is what makes us so family orientated. Today you can see the family atmosphere and the love.” 

Also joining the small crowd in the gym were four teachers who had retired prior to the school year. One of those was Camile Gautreaux, who had taught middle school social studies for 15 years before retiring during the summer because of COVID-19 concerns. 

He also played an instrumental role in navigating the Blue Ribbon application process. 

“I am so proud,” Gautreaux said. “I credit (Gardner) for doing a lot of the work but it’s also refreshing that all of the hard work from past faculty and administrations (paid off),” he added. “All of that built up for this achievement today.” 

Father Nelson welcomed the news with a broad smile before congratulating his award-winning educators. 

“It’s kind of surreal. I learned a long time ago the significance of this award,” said Father Nelson, who is a CHS alum and offered congratulations to his alma mater. 

“I was just really proud because I know how hard we have all worked to help make our school the best it can be,” he said. “I was grateful to be able to be here. It’s a humbling experience.” 

Father Nelson said the school is always striving to be the best it can be and not competing with other schools. 

“We are unique, we just see ourselves for who we are,” he said. “We are not predominantly a high income community. It does what it does week after week based on good, down to earth, grounded people.” 

Catholic High previously won the award in 1989, 1993, 1998, 2003 and 2014. Annually, 50 private schools nationwide receive the award. 

“This recognition demonstrates the consistent pursuit of excellence by the Catholic High students, faculty and staff, to never rest on our past accomplishments but to always strive to adapt our educational program to meet the changing needs of our students and the different circumstances in our world,” CHS principal Lisa Harvey said. “It is important to demonstrate and celebrate that our students continue to achieve and succeed academically here at Catholic High School.”

Because of the stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Father Nelson said he believes the significance of the award will not be truly recognized until there is an opportunity to have a larger and more communal celebration. But he noted the award is a validation of not only St. Jude’s strong emphasis on academics but also on instilling core values in all of its students. 

He said St. Jude considers itself “family” which includes the school family, Catholic family and the community. 

“I can’t think more of a better reminder in the time we are living in now where everybody seems to be divisive and divided,” he said. 

“I’m so proud for this school community, for the students, for the teachers,” Gardner said. “There is not a better group of people who are more deserving of this honor than our faculty, our staff, our students, our amazing parents. That’s the family part of what St. Jude is.” 

The National Blue Ribbon status recognizes public and private schools across the country that are among the highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests. 

The U.S. Secretary of Education invites a school to submit an application for possible recognition when certain academic standards are met. In order to be eligible, the graduating class had to fall within the top 15% of ACT scores across the nation.

Since 1988 seven schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge have won a combined 15 Blue Ribbon awards. Along with Catholic and St. Jude, St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge has won the award on four occasions and Most Blessed Sacrament School, St. Aloysius School, St. George and St. Thomas More, all in Baton Rouge, have one each. 

Dr. Melanie Palmisano, superintendent for Catholic schools, said from 1982-2019, 35 schools in East Baton Rouge Parish received Blue Ribbon awards. Of that number Catholic schools earned 13 awards, or 37% percent. 

Palmisano pointed out that Catholic schools account for 11% of schools in EBR. 

“Catholic schools are (winning the award at) three times the rate,” Palmisano said. “Our schools are a great value for the price of tuition.” 

Catholic High School will celebrate this accomplishment formally when it opens its new Student Center in mid-October. 

St. Jude is also planning an October celebration.