A new private school is set to open next fall in one of Winnipeg's poorest neighbourhoods.

Tuition-free Gonzaga Middle School is scheduled to start operating in Point Douglas in September 2016.

A group of alumni from St. Paul's High School, including Mark and Steve Chipman, are founding the school in an effort to help break the cycle of poverty through education.

"The Point Douglas area and northeast downtown are the areas where there's a much lower chance of kids being successful than in other parts of the city. We're looking at kids in these areas having just slightly greater than a 50 per cent chance of graduating from high school," said Tom Lussier, executive director and future principal of Gonzaga Middle School.

The first class will consist of 15 to 20 Grade 6 students, selected with the help of local community groups and agencies, said Lussier, a former principal of St. Paul's High School. 

Eventually the school will grow to 60 students. Lussier said he will personally interview parents and potential students as part of the selection process.

"We'll try to find families [who] are interested in what we have to offer. We're giving these families an option, a choice that they might not otherwise have," he said.

Lussier was approached about two years ago by the Chipmans and other St. Paul's alumni about starting Gonzaga, he said.

The school will be modelled after Jesuit schools in American inner cities that are called nativity schools. The idea is to provide extra resources and support to a select number of low-income students who show potential in academics, even though they might be behind in math or reading.

"The school culture will be one of trying to create an atmosphere where kids know they're cared for, that we as staff will do what we can to help them become the best person they can be," said Lussier. 


Mark Chipman, chairman of Winnipeg Jets owner True North Sports and Entertainment, and other alumni from St. Paul's High School are helping open a private school for low-income students in the North End. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Gonzaga will stay in touch with students even after they've moved on, he said. The school plans to hire a graduate support worker who will follow up with students throughout high school and into university. 

The Jesuit school will immerse students in Catholic culture, Lussier said, although students of all faith backgrounds are welcome. 

"Spirituality is going to be a part of our school, but it's not going to be a traditional Catholic school," he said.

"In addition to Catholic forms prayer and so on, we will encourage other forms of prayer to be part of the school day."

Gonzaga Middle School will be at 174 Maple St. N. in Winnipeg. The property is being leased from St. Andrews Ukrainian Catholic Church. Renovations and operating costs will run $3 million over three years, Lussier said.