The West End School’s gym is hard to miss for drivers passing by on the Waterson Expressway. The words “Darrell Griffith Athletic Center” stand out in white and orange letters against a gray backdrop. Inside, there’s a state-of-the-art basketball court and a room dedicated to its namesake’s basketball career.
Of course, there’s much more to the West End School than that prominent landmark. The school for at-risk boys has grown from a first class of just three students in 2005 to nearly 150 today, with classes from first to eighth grade. Boys in the upper grades live in on-campus dormitories.
And it has been around long enough that it is producing success stories, says Paul Perconti, co-founder and chairman of the school’s board. He said boys graduate from the West End School and routinely earn scholarships to private high schools and college. This year, the first to make it all the way through college graduated from Tufts University near Boston.
“Our goal is to give these kids a fair shot at a level playing field in life,” Perconti says. “When boys graduate, they’re getting full scholarships for private high schools. That’s a big payday for them.”
Students who attend the West End School learn through a “culture of high expectations” in which they have “rigorous academic and personal standards.” This results in a student body striving to attain “the highest possible level of scholarship, intellectual growth, responsibility and character.”
The two dozen board members include prominent Louisvillians including Junior Bridgeman, Rev. Kevin Cosby, WAVE-TV’s Dawne Gee, and Griffith, who himself attended elementary school on the site. Perconti says students pay no tuition – the school funds its operations through donations and is debt-free.
The board has raised more than $12 million to upgrade the facility, which was built in 1923 and served the community for years as an elementary school.
When the West End School started in 2005, it was primarily a boarding school for middle-school boys. In 2012, it started a day school, first with pre-kindergarten and first grade, adding a class each year. Now each grade has 15 boys enrolled.
Today, West End School students test above grade level in reading, writing, and math, and show respect to their teachers and other adults. After founders Robert and Deborah Blair retired in 2017, the school conducted a search before announcing that Louisville native Kelly Wright Henrion would become the new head of school.
Perconti says his experience as board chair for the West End School has been rewarding in many ways.
“I’ve been there thousands of times and never left without a smile on my face,” he says.