HAMMOND — Nine new magnet schools opened across Tangipahoa Parish on Thursday in response to the parish’s court-approved public school desegregation plan.
“Things are going much better than I expected they would,” said Allison Andrews, the parish school district’s supervisor of magnet programs.
About 1,400 children applied for the magnet programs and about 500 were accepted, Andrews said.
The nine new schools combine both magnet students and students zoned for those schools, Andrews said.
Hammond High School Principal Chad Troxclair said that about 200 more students showed up for classes this year than last year.
Troxclair, in his second year at the school, said that he had been preparing for the magnet transition since about one month into his first year.
“What summer?” he asked. “We had about five days off.”
The school had to be extensively reorganized, he said.
“About 40 percent” of the staff is new this year, Troxclair said.
The school switched to a block scheduling format, where students have four classes on “A” days and four different classes on “B” days.
To help remind students which day it is, Troxclair’s staff placed large cones at each of the entrances to the schools, green for “A” and orange for “B” days.
Another change under way is the conversion to a bilingual immersion: English on “A” days and Spanish on “B” days.
Hammond High is scheduled to be a medical and technology magnet school, but some of the classrooms for that are still under construction, Troxclair said.
When completed, the school will offer a sports medicine and rehabilitation facility with classroom and two treatment rooms, he said.
Similar conversions at other schools have been less involved, Andrews said.
Kentwood High School, which opened Thursday as a performing arts magnet, had minimal construction done for its dance and jazz band programs, Andrews said.
At Independence Middle and Amite Elementary, which are now communications magnets, TV studios were installed, she said.
The magnet programs are a crucial part of the parish’s voluntary desegregation plan, approved by a federal judge in March 2010.
The magnets serve two purposes: to improve the quality of education offered to students in certain zones; and enticing students who have left the system back in into it, thereby aiding desegregation, said Superintendent Mark Kolwe.
It was too early to tell whether Hammond High’s magnet programs had increased diversity on campus, Troxclair said.
The process will take several years, he said.
Parish voters rejected four tax proposals on April 30 that would have provided a portion of the magnet school funding.
The bulk of the funding for the programs comes from a federal grant that provides a little more than $2 million per year for three years, Andrews said.
This is the first year of the grant, which may be renewed at the end of the three-year period, she said.
“We were told as principals that we were going to have to do more with less,” Troxclair said. “This cannot fail.”