About 100 people gathered Tuesday night in the auditorium at Woodlawn High School to get a sneak preview of changes in store for the southeast Baton Rouge school this fall, including expansion of its well-known robotics club, new training in sports medicine and nursing, and skilled trade certification through the nearby Associated Builders and Contractors training center.
“The goal is to offer every student something so that they can leave college- and career-ready when they graduate high school,” said Ben Necaise, East Baton Rouge Parish school system executive director for high schools.
But some in the audience expressed their displeasure with what they said is a lack of support for the school.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of several community meetings planned at high schools throughout East Baton Rouge Parish as the parish school system tries to give every high school new pathways to careers. Woodlawn High School will roll out its changes this fall, while six more high schools will expand in 2017.
Deputy Superintendent Michelle Clayton said the school system doesn’t want to wait.
“We really want this to be different,” she said. “We want it to be a new day at Woodlawn High School in the fall.”
The central office visitors, however, got an earful from several parents, students and teachers, especially ones associated with Woodlawn’s gifted program, saying the high school’s efforts to improve are being undermined.
“Every day I pass a sign advertising Lee High School in our zone,” asked an indignant Jennifer Fentress, a biology teacher. “Where’s our sign?”
Amber Klein, choir director at the high school, noted several accomplishments of the school’s choir for which she could not get in-house publicity.
“How do we get all of our awesomeness out?” Klein asked.
A few students complained of not having books for their classes for months, floating teachers who teach in closets, or taking chemistry courses online because the school lacks a chemistry teacher.
Jessica Martin, a junior, said she loves Woodlawn High and Principal Scott Stevens and his support for new clubs and initiatives, but it’s not enough.
“Every time we try to do something, things go wrong,” Martin said.
Necaise and Clayton both apologized for the high school not having textbooks, particularly for Advanced Placement courses, which don’t follow the textbook adoption schedule of other courses, and said it won’t happen again.
The plans for Woodlawn call for special academies in robotics, medical professions, visual and performing arts, as well as a college and career institute. Woodlawn also will start using the Associated Builders and Contractors training center at 19251 Highland Road, something Ascension Parish schools have been doing for years. Students can get dual-enrollment credit in eight skilled trades, ranging from welding to mobile crane operation.
Rosalin Scott, a new arrival to Baton Rouge who recently enrolled her child at Woodlawn, asked how the programs the school is planning will help children get a job when they lack prior job experience.
“How does it make them competitive and not just graduate with a piece of paper?” Scott asked.
Superintendent Warren Drake said the new job pathways will allow students to graduate with industry certifications and, in some cases, allow them to work internships.
In the audience Tuesday was Norman Browning, a longtime Woodlawn High booster who, after dissatisfaction with the school system, led the St. George incorporation effort that last year fell short of getting on the ballot. He told Drake he likes a lot of what he’s hearing but worries it won’t go anywhere if the school system doesn’t promote it sufficiently.
“It’s more than just, ‘Build it and they will come,’ ” Browning said. “Woodlawn has been here, and they are not coming.”
Drake noted a new ad campaign is rolling out but said better customer service will lead to better word of mouth and that is the best way to fix Woodlawn High’s public perception.
“We need your help,” he told Browning. “This is your school.”
“I know tonight we’re talking the talk,” Drake added, “and we need to walk the walk, and we will do that.”
Fentress said she has a child at Woodlawn Elementary whom she’d like to see ultimately progress to Woodlawn High but said the school needs to improve first. She said she’s hopeful after what she heard Tuesday
“At least they’ve got ideas,” she said, “but I want them to take that (Lee High) sign down in our district.”