"The number eight signifies a new beginning," Superintendent Warren Drake told the crowd which included principals, teachers, para-professionals, coaches, faculty, bus drivers, custodial staff, school board members, community leaders, government officials and the founding fathers of the Zachary Community School District, among others.
School Board President and cofounder of Foundation Assisting Zachary Education, Hubie Owen, explained how FAZE got its start 18 years ago, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lynn Buzhardt.
Buzhardt and other leaders in the community took an active role in making investments in the education of Zachary youth. To date, FAZE has raised over $240,000.
Performances by Zachary High's band and jazz ensemble entertained guests, as well as members of the choir, who performed "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent and Emma Graves and Kevin Miller belted out a rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey.
Zachary's school district has grown since opening in 2003, Drake said, from four schools to seven, with this year's opening of the Early Learning Center and last year's Port Hudson Career Academy.
Student population has soared from 2,100 to 5,800, full-time teaching positions jumped from 275 to 550 and part-time positions total 100.
"To put it in perspective, we received 2,100 applications for employment in the Zachary school district for the upcoming school year," Drake said, "we filled only 10 positions."
Drake and school board members also honored the district's six teachers of the year: Rosalyn Major, Northwestern Elementary; Maegan LaBorde, Zachary Elementary; Lisa Redmon, Copper Mill; Paula Swilley, Northwestern Middle; Lisa Smothers, Zachary High; and Lesa Cannon, Port Hudson Career Academy.
Zachary City Court Judge Lonny Myles gave a brief history lesson of how the district got its start back in 1970 during the onset of public school integration.
"What some of these people went through is truly unique," Myles said.
Myles then introduced the "founding fathers" of the ZCSD: Jesse Spears, David Horton, R.E. Amrhein, Jerry Boudreaux, Glenn Brady and the late John Womack.
While other schools in EBRP were in conflict, Zachary maintained a 65-35 ratio of blacks-whites and voluntarily integrated.
"White people that fled in the beginning, eventually came back because they knew they could get an education," said Myles.
Drake went on to say that the standard of excellence is high in Zachary schools and each teacher affects the education of the children.
"Never underestimate the power of your influence," he said.