LOWELL - She is in her element.
It is quintessential Linda Trouville, surrounded by children, scrub-faced and eager to learn.
"I love getting up in the morning and coming to work," she says. "It's a wonderful place to be."
Trouville, who spent close to 40 years in various capacities in the Dracut Public Schools, took over an ailing St. Louis School in the summer of 2010. The iconic Catholic school in Lowell's Centraville section, which serves K through eighth-grade students, had seen its enrollment dwindle throughout the previous decade. With Trouville at the helm, enrollment has been steadily climbing, from 269 in the 2010 to 337 students last year.
Citing records from 2004 when enrollment was at its zenith with 475 students, Trouville said her goal in the 2012-13 school year is 350 students.
"I believe it's very doable," she said, pointing out that several interviews and tours have been scheduled for the weeks leading up to the beginning of school. "Last year, 40 students enrolled in the summer months. Many of those happened just before the start of the school year."
Trouville said it's especially thrilling for her to meet parents, grandparents and great-grandparents who have all attended St. Louis School.
"When you have four generations from the same family attending the same school and the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are just as excited about their child coming here as if they were coming here, that tells me that we must be offering something here that families are looking for.
Tuition at the school is $3,500 a year. The price goes down $100 for each additional child from the same family.
"We have families that send three or four children here," she explains. "That's a huge commitment. A huge sacrifice. But it's well-worth it because of the type of education you receive here at St. Louis School."
Q: Private Catholic schools require a heavy financial sacrifice. What is the number one reason for sending your child to Catholic school?
A: "For those who are deeply ensconced in the faith, the biggest advantage is that everything that is taught here is grounded in Jesus. It's grounded in teaching our students how to be moral, upstanding individuals who display the characteristics that Jesus displayed: kindness, patience, responsibility, honesty, love. We have so many parents who send their children here, not only for the academic excellence they will receive here, but also for the good and moral foundation that they will build. The parents are all very supportive of what is done here, our disciplinary policies and our expectation of excellence. Our motto is 'Expect Excellence' -- excellence in academics, excellence in character and excellence in their relationships with each other."
Q: How hard is it not having a functioning Catholic church right next door?
A: "We still have a chapel there and we still use the church as a church once a month during Masses. The chapel isn't big enough to accommodate the entire school but the church is. So we can still celebrate the Mass there. We have a type of stage and we bring the altar out. The old church is now called 'The Center' and sometimes we will have our prayer services there. The only disadvantage is that we have to travel to get to our parish churches. This used to be a parish church prior to 2004 when the archdiocese closed many churches. The neighbors still come out when we have the Mass. They still feel that connection. We want them to be a part of the growth that we are experiencing. We invite the neighbors to a lot of our activities."
Q: A large immigrant population has moved into the neighborhood in the past few years. How has St. Louis School been able to adapt to the diversity in the neighborhood?
A: "The biggest influx has been from the African community. As many as 30 children have come into school in the last year. There's a lot of explanation of how things work in the United States and the expectations of a private school. There's a lot of assimilation with the parents and the youngsters. Sometimes they don't speak English too well. But the students are wonderful and they will put their arm around them and make sure they feel welcome.
"And a lot of parents who are from the African community are Evangelical pastors themselves with their own churches so they understand and actually encourage obeying the rules, discipline, and accountability for your actions. They welcome that."
Q: Why are there so many lay teachers these days and fewer nuns teaching in Catholic schools?
A: "That's easy. There aren't a lot of young ladies going into the novitiate and the nuns that are still teaching are aging. That's pretty much it. There just are not enough women going into the order. But let me add that nothing is lost in the classroom. All of our lay teachers are certified to teach religion. They are required to talk about our religion and weave it into all the classes. So a lot of the gospel teachings, a lot of the morals that come with our faith is spoken of freely to the students throughout the day. That's one of the pieces I like. I can talk openly about Jesus. I can say 'Christmas' and not have to think twice about it. Don't forget, I was in the public school system for almost 40 years.
"Let me add one more thing about our wonderful teachers. We have teachers who came here because they only wanted to teach in a Catholic school. They love and embrace the values that are taught here. They are highly qualified and could be making much more money in the public schools. They know that. But for them, it's more than a teaching job, it's a vocation."
Q: Do private schools like St. Louis School have to comply with the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) requirements?
A: "No. We administer the Stanford Achievement Tests and I analyze them in much the same manner that I did with the MCAS tests when I worked in the Dracut Public Schools. Having been in charge of that, I just brought a lot of that thinking with me. We look at the tests and determine whether the students are progressing and if the teachers are adequately instructing the classroom.
"We're somewhat data-driven in the sense that I look very carefully at the progress of individual children, not so much as a whole class.
"We are not required to do the MCAS tests because we are not required to report to the Massachusetts Department of Education or the Commissioner of Education or superintendent in Lowell. We report to the Archdiocese of Boston and they have an entire schema of administrators that are equivalent to the state Board of Education."