East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Warren Drake says he’s enlisting the support of everyone he can in Baton Rouge to assist children in overcoming the many obstacles that keep them from succeeding as adults.
“In the past four months, I have reached out and engaged every community organization in Baton Rouge,” Drake told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. “We can’t do this alone. We’re all in this together. The future of Baton Rouge is at issue.”
Drake leveled a moral challenge to his audience gathered in a ballroom at the Belle of Baton Rouge casino.
“These kids have challenges,” Drake said. “It’s my responsibility. It’s our responsibility. It’s everyone in this room’s responsibility to help them.”
The importance of community ran through Drake’s talk. He offered updates on the many initiatives he’s launched since taking over the state’s second-largest public school system in June.
For instance, he’s enlisting business partners for the 80-plus schools in the system. Drake said the schools he’s visited since taking over are doing good work and deserve assistance.
“There’s not a school that I’ve been in that I would not send my own children to,” Drake said.
Another long-in-the-making initiative is a planned Career Academy to train teenagers in skilled occupations such as video game design and health care so they can land jobs after graduation. He said the fields students train in there will change with the times.
“We want to make sure whatever we put in that building is relevant and meets the needs of the community,” he said.
The superintendent’s idea of community involved a mix of reviving a Baton Rouge community of the past and forging a community of the future.
Drake looked to the past as he talked about his efforts to return Istrouma High School to local control and reopen it as a neighborhood high school next fall.
After months of talks, the school system reached a tentative agreement with state leaders to return the school to the district. The parish School Board gave preliminary approval to the proposal Thursday and is expected to give final approval Oct. 15.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is not expected to take up the issue until later this year.
Drake talked at length about the history of the high school, which will turn 100 years old in 2017. He talked about how Memorial Stadium was built to accommodate football games between archrivals Istrouma and Baton Rouge High.
He pointed to a copy of the biography he’s reading about perhaps the high school’s most famous graduate, “Billy Cannon: A Long, Long Run,” by Charles deGravelles, which was published last month.
“You see, I get emotional about Istrouma,” he said. “I did not go there, but I can tell you stories.”
The planning for the new Istrouma is still early, but Drake promised good things.
“I can tell you it will be dynamic,” he said. “It will be great.”
Looking forward, Drake described the new Lee High School, which is in the midst of a $54.7 million reconstruction, as a “school unlike any other.” The rebuilt school will be home to three themed academies: bioscience, digital and media arts, and engineering and robotics. In the three, the emphasis will be on learning through projects and a scientific approach to learning, amounting to what Drake called “a research high school.”
The school, which has 461 students, is readying for a large expansion to about 1,200 students when it moves back to its historic home at 1105 Lee Drive. Drake said he’s not worried that the lack of a football team will inhibit the school’s drawing power.
“Personally, I think we’re going to have a waiting list,” he said. “I think we need a different kind of high school.”