A popular foreign language immersion school in downtown Baton Rouge would expand from its campus to nearby Polk Elementary, where older students would attend under a proposal preliminarily approved Tuesday night.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted unanimously in favor of the idea Tuesday. The board will take up the proposal for final approval when it meets next on April 21.
Grades kindergarten to two would remain at 802 Mayflower St. Upper grades, two to five, would move into Polk Elementary, 408 E. Polk St. Prekindergarten classes would move to Polk as well.
The changes would take effect in August with the start of the 2016-17 school year.
“This is a good intermediate step,” said Matt Diez, outgoing president of the parent-teacher organization at the school, known as BR FLAIM, short for Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion school.
The changes, if approved, would accelerate ones made in early 2014.
At that time, the school system spent millions to renovate Polk. Officials added foreign language programs in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The program was called BR FLAIM II.
Polk Elementary, which has been shrinking in enrollment for years, was allowed to continue its operations but could not accept new students. New students are enrolling instead at nearby Buchanan and University Terrace elementary schools. Meanwhile, the old Polk is being phased out. By 2020, all Polk students will be gone.
BR FLAIM II, however, has proven a tough sell, receiving about half as many applicants as the original school.
The new proposal would combine both schools into one known as BR FLAIM but one that would operate at both campuses. Students at both locations would be immersed for at least 60 percent of their day in Spanish, Chinese or French. Currently, only Spanish is offered at both locations.
Combined foreign language enrollment would grow over time from about 320 students to about 600 students.
BR FLAIM supporters want more. Their long-standing goal has been to persuade the School Board to build a new campus, allowing them to escape their beloved campus on Mayflower Street, which Diez calls a “crumbling, rundown building at the corner of Beauregard Town.”
Deputy Superintendent Michelle Clayton acknowledged that school system leaders are considering building a new BR FLAIM school as they figure out which construction projects to bring to voters in 2018, when they seek renewal of a 1-cent sales tax that funds most public school construction in Baton Rouge.
Also on the table, she said, is forming a high school featuring the International Baccalaureate program, an internationally focused competitor of Advanced Placement. IB is available in Baton Rouge at Baton Rouge International and LSU Lab schools. Students from BR FLAIM would feed into the proposed high school as well as students from Mayfair Lab and from parish Montessori programs.
Several BR FLAIM supporters showed up Tuesday to applaud the move and sing the praises of their magnet school, which has an A letter grade and is one of the highest-performing in Baton Rouge academically.
“I will put our kids’ performance against any suburban parish and any private school,” Diez said.
Heidi Sonnier, outgoing parent-teacher organization vice president, said her son has thrived at BR FLAIM.
“Enrolling him and being accepted is absolutely the best thing that ever happened to us,” Sonnier said.
One parent, however, is not happy with the move.
Daphne Batiste, who has a grandson in third grade at Polk, urged the board to reject expanding BR Flaim to Polk and to restore Polk as a neighborhood elementary school.
“You should not seize our school,” Batiste said.
Clayton said the proposal would not affect the phasing out timetable of the old Polk.
“We’re not going to make any child leave the school,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story was changed April 6, 2016, to reflect that the Baccalaureate program is available in Baton Rouge at Baton Rouge International and LSU Lab schools.