By Megan Spees
Daily Gate City
KEOKUK – Iowa’s oldest Catholic school system is hearkening to the past and looking to the future as it celebrates its 160th anniversary.
“We have so many things to be proud of at Keokuk Catholic School this year and are humbled by the community support and strong relationships we have forged through the 160 years in Keokuk,” said KCS Administrator Laura Marsot.
It was announced during a special Mass Sept. 4 that the preK-5 facility will again be known as St. Vincent’s Elementary. Marsot said KCS plans to re-adopt that name during Catholic Schools Week in late January 2014.
“The staff felt it would be beneficial to our Catholic identity,” she said.
The St. Vincent’s moniker was dropped in 2006 when Cardinal Stritch High School merged with Marquette and Aquinas schools to become part of Holy Trinity in Fort Madison.
At that time, St. Vincent’s Elementary students moved from 610 Timea St. to the former Stritch building at 2981 Plank Road.
In addition to being part of the state’s oldest Catholic school system, St. Vincent’s also was the second parochial school to be established in the northwest territory of the Louisiana Purchase, Marsot said.
Enrollment has remained steady or increased every year in the recent past, according to Marsot. K-5 enrollment so far in 2013-14 is 79, two more than in 2012-13. Preschool students bring this year’s building-wide enrollment to 121.
K-5 enrollment was 74 in 2011-12 and 71 in 2010-11.
Visitors will notice several recent improvements at the school in terms of security, play equipment and technology.
Marsot said that thanks to a grant from the Lee County Charitable Foundation, “we have the capability to completely lock down” during an emergency.
During school hours, KCS visitors can access the building only through the main entrance. Hitting a button near the left-hand set of doors activates a video paging system monitored by secretary Tammy Loeffler. After Loeffler verifies that it’s safe to let the visitor into the building, the closest door unlocks long enough to allow entry.
The exterior doors on the cafeteria side and classroom wing also stay locked while class is in session. Doors that lead to the new preschool playground are equipped with a card-reader system accessible only to teachers.
The play area for KCS’ youngest students was moved during the spring and summer from the general K-5 playground to the green space behind the classroom wing (formerly the Stritch soccer field area). The new equipment was funded by the state voluntary preschool program, which facilitates KCS’ preschool program.
KCS family and friends installed the equipment.
The school recently received a grant that will provide electronic whiteboards for the remaining classrooms without the technology.