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Woodland Presbyterian School breaks ground on middle school wing

In hard hats wobbling on their heads, 10 students at Woodland Presbyterian School broke ground on a middle school wing that will be ready for them next summer.

The $3.3 million expansion, the largest in the school’s nearly 60-year history, will add a wing across the front at 5217 Park for seventh- and eighth-graders. The classrooms they are using now will be returned to Woodland United Presbyterian Church, the school’s namesake, parent and inseparable partner.

“We are on a tight East Memphis campus. There is not room for just the church or the school to do something,” said head of school Adam Moore. “We had to look at how the whole campus could do something to meet both our needs.”

Woodland, which has 340 students, does not plan to add students. The expansion, including renovations to its early-childhood classrooms, allows it to enlarge classrooms and upgrade technology.

The largest single gift was $500,000 from an anonymous donor, followed by $250,000 from the Assisi Foundation.

In a ceremony that included the church choir, the bell choir and dozens of donors (including 100 percent of the teaching staff), the church and school watched with warm smiles in the gray mist as its joint two-year capital campaign moved forward in flying clods of soil.

“The school is a mission of the church,” said parishioner Dusty Norsworthy, who’s also been part of the school since 1999 as a parent and board member.

“We feel like it’s our community outreach. Living by example starts right here at home in our backyard,” she said by cellphone on the school soccer field where Woodland was hosting a citywide soccer tournament Monday evening. “The church realizes we pull the congregation from the school too. They both help feed each other.”

The two have separate missions and budgets but share a collegiality that allows them to coexist on a campus hemmed in all sides by development.

“I like the community there,” said parent Brad Carson. “They have a unique setup with small classes and a teacher and an assistant in every classroom. The classes are 15 to 17 students per classroom. They have two sections of each class, all the way from prekindergarten to eighth-grade.”

The expansion, which will require the bulk of the $3.3 million, will be one-story addition, with stairwells and an elevator shaft in case Woodland chooses to grow later.

The congregation started the school in 1956, shortly after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate public schools. “Now, the independent schools are clamoring for diversity,” Moore said.

The school is reaching out in separate campaigns to appeal to a broader socioeconomic range and a wider swath of Memphians in general. In five years, it has doubled its diversity statistics, including families from different races, languages and faiths. In a decade, the number of students on scholarship has grown from “the smallest of single digits” to 30 percent, Moore said.

“We want to give our students a dose of the real world,” he said. “That includes students that look different from them, think differently and speak different languages. Starting that a young age prepares our students for the world they will work in.”