Just 13 days before its first day and three days away from moving into its facility, the new Career Academy gathered together its initial group of students and their parents Thursday night to school them on the rules for this unique place.
Principal Pam Mackie, a veteran educator who has spent the past four years running Valley Park Elementary School, was the center of attention. Walking through the room of students and parents, Mackie promised personal attention to those enrolled at this new career-oriented high school.
“It is my job to get to know each and every one of you,” Mackie said. “All 200 of you.”
In truth, the school is not there yet.
Nancy Roberts, executive director and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, said the school has about 140 students enrolled. Sixty more have filled out intent to enroll forms, but have not as yet, she said. The goal is to have about 100 ninth- and 100 10th-graders at the school by the first day, Aug. 10. The school has a five-year charter to operate from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
“We are still recruiting,” Roberts said. “I think we’re going to make it.”
Thursday’s parent orientation was held at LRCE’s office on Florida Boulevard. Roberts attributed the good turnout of more than 250 people to the free jambalaya.
“It’s amazing what happens if you feed people,” she said.
Roberts said that there’s still work going on at the recently closed Brookstown Elementary School, 4375 E. Brookstown Drive. She said administrators and faculty will begin moving in on Monday.
Roberts has helped shepherd this school into being over the past few years, garnering strong support from petrochemical and other industrial leaders. In the process, she had to fend off competing proposals for similar schools. She and her team finally won approval last year from the School Board.
The fledgling school has had more difficulties since, including the arrival and departure of its first principal, before the hiring of Mackie in the spring.
Early recruiting difficulties led school organizers earlier this summer to push hard to take over the troubled Capitol High Academy in exchange for using its large campus. Despite tentative approval from the state Department of Education, and support from 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge, which had been running the high school up until then, the idea did not sit well with the parish School Board, and Roberts reluctantly withdrew the proposal in late June.
Brookstown is not necessarily where the school will stay. The school system has $17 million budgeted to build a career-oriented school in the future.
Debora Tolbert said she saw the possibilities of this new Career Academy immediately upon hearing about the school at an event at Woodlawn Middle School in the spring. She said she decided it would be a good fit for her daughter, Alexis, 16, who is entering ninth grade.
“She fell behind a couple of grades in school,” Tolbert said. “The Career Academy will give her an opportunity to catch up and get the credits she needs to go on to nursing college.”
Health science is one of four focus areas for the new high school. The others include: manufacturing; hospitality and tourism; and transportation, distribution and logistics. The school plans to add focus areas over time as it grows, and also adjust to the workforce needs of employers in the Baton Rouge area.
Stanley Lias Sr. said his wife’s friend heard about this school and thought it might work well for their son, Stanley Lias Jr., who he said needed a change from the school he was attending in Baker.
“We had different kinds of stuff from traditional schooling when I was going to school,” said Lias, who said he went to high school in Mississippi.
Laverne Robinson knows what school has been like through the years. She said her first teaching job was in 1969 at then Capitol Junior High. This fall she plans to teach English 1 and English 2 at The Career Academy. She said high schools have needed more career options for years.
“This is an opportunity for learning outside the four walls of the school,” she said.