The East Baton Rouge Parish school system’s public and magnet schools showcased their academic and extracurricular programs during the first “CelEBRate” event at McKinley Middle Magnet School on Saturday.
After thunderstorms forced the event from the downtown riverfront to McKinley, parents, volunteers and community and school leaders packed into the narrow hallways as students participated in events ranging from lemonade stands to a talent show.
The school system organized “CelEBRate” to draw attention to “traditional, neighborhood” schools, said EBR school system Chief of Communications Adonica Duggan.
The event was staged at a time when 10 charter schools await approval to open schools in the parish. That would mean further competition for the public school system, which has seen a roughly 2,000-student downturn in enrollment from 2012-2015, according to figures from the Louisiana Department of Education.
The National Center for Education Statistics predicts fewer students will enroll in public schools in Louisiana over the next seven years while the rest of the country will see an increase in public school enrollment.
But officials and advocates of the public schools argue they have much to contribute to their communities, even as two new charter schools are set to open in the East Baton Rouge Parish system next school year. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislation package aimed at curbing charter growth has fared poorly in the Legislature so far.
“We want to make (parents) aware of all of their choices,” Duggan said.
Anna Fogle, organizer of the grassroots public school advocacy group Beyond Bricks EBR, signed up parents to participate in the group’s discussions during Saturday’s event.
Over the course of 50 listening events in the past year, where hundreds of parents in Baton Rouge voiced their opinions about public schools, Fogle said, the organization found three main topics to focus on. The issues of concern for parents are accountability and testing, parental involvement and student voice, she said.
“What we’ve learned is (school) choice is not what’s important to parents,” Fogle said. “They just want good schools close to their homes.”
Fogle said the school system has not done a good job of touting the “great things” in public schools, and the only things that gain attention are scandals, fights and crime.
But Saturday’s event drew attention to things like autism awareness, health initiatives and athletics.
STEM programs — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math — were also on display, with drones flying around the gymnasium and students roaming the halls showing off robots they built to anyone who would listen.
“We’re putting this on so parents know the school system is comprehensive and can provide all their children’s needs,” said Director of Magnet Programs Theresa Porter.
Porter noted some magnet schools have openings, during the current extended application period, and parents were offered opportunities to learn about the schools in the system and enroll their students.
Tom Randolph, whose five children attended Baton Rouge Magnet High School, was at the event to see his granddaughter, who goes to Dufrocq Elementary School, work a lemonade stand. Randolph said the event will help advertise the good things going on in Baton Rouge’s public schools.
“There needs to be both,” charter and public schools, Randolph said. “Public schools need the competition.”