South Surrey parent Troy Van Vliet (inset) is one of the major driving forces behind a new Catholic school planned for 24 Avenue near 182 Street. (Contributed photos)

New South Surrey Catholic school fills longtime need, says parent organizer

St. John Paul II Academy planned for next September

The creation of a Catholic high school in South Surrey has been a long time coming, according to one of the driving forces behind the parent-led project that will see just such an option open in time for next fall.

But considering the wait, Elgin-area resident Troy Van Vliet said the project has actually come together remarkably fast once it started to take off in earnest.

“It’s funny, it’s almost something that’s been in the works – or talked about, at least – for 30 years, ever since Star of the Sea (elementary) opened,” said Van Vliet, whose two daughters are in Grade 4 and 6, respectively, at Star of the Sea.

“Of the 60-plus kids who graduate from Star of the Sea every year, only about 20 of them end up in the Catholic school system (for high school). They go to public school, or a different private school – they get scattered all over… It’s been a question since Day 1: Where do they go to high school?”

Now, that question has been answered, after the announcement last week that St. John Paul II Academy will begin operation in September 2018 on the site of Star of the Sea and Good Shepherd Church. Construction of a new high school, slated for 24 Avenue near 182 Street, is expected to be completed by midway through the 2019/’20 school year.

The project has been in the works for less than a year, Van Vliet noted.

“We really only started last November. It’s been a really fast period of time between ‘Hey, we should start a school’ to having a principal hired.”

The expedited timeline is a result of parents and organizers using a model different than the Catholic archdiocese has used in the past – one similar to what other private, secular schools have used. That model includes families paying a fee – in the thousands of dollars, and used to help fund the school – upon students starting at the school, and then having that money repaid upon graduation.

“It can be perpetual, or at least can go for a number of years, until the school doesn’t need the money anymore. That’s never been done before in the Catholic school system,” Van Vliet explained.

“The old way the archdiocese used to do things was, they’d go to the feeder parishes and say, ‘OK, you cough up X amount, you cough up X amount, and then we’ll start raising more money and build a school. The parishes have always been like ‘We don’t have any money, don’t come to us for money,’ and that’s what has stifled it forever.

“We have private schools popping up all over the place in the Lower Mainland, so we just thought, ‘Why aren’t we taking a page out of their book?’”

Van Vliet said interest in the high school was gauged through a brochure campaign at the area’s Catholic elementary schools. The response was “overwhelming,” he said; about 500 students have expressed interest.

The new school is estimated to cost $30 million and will be built on a 10-acre plot of land already owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.

The classes are still a year away, but the school has already hired its first principal – Michel DesLauriers, who comes to St. John Paul II Academy from St. Thomas More.

“He’s the Wayne Gretzky of principals,” Van Vliet said. “He’s been teaching for over 30 years, and he is very well-versed in the Catholic school system.”

A third and final information session is planned for tonight (Wednesday) at St. Bernadette Elementary (13130 65B Ave.) at 7 p.m.

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