Speaking Tuesday night to more than 100 people at Woodlawn Middle School, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Warren Drake noted the southern portion of the parish is its fastest growing part, including the area near the middle school.
“Naturally, that is where we’re going to build schools,” said Drake.
Few of those present, however, appeared to be from this area of need. Instead, the crowd was full of parents and advocates for magnet schools closer to downtown, particularly BR FLAIM, the popular foreign language immersion program.
Zhu Lin, who grew up in China, said she hears from friends back in her home country whose children are learning multiple languages and thinks that should be the norm here.
“Every student should have to learn a foreign language so they can compete globally,” she said.
Tuesday’s forum is the second of three the school system is holding to gather community input in shaping a construction plan that will head to voters next spring as part of a proposed renewal a 1-cent sales tax dedicated to education. The third and final forum is scheduled Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Claiborne Elementary School, 4707 Denham St.
The 1-cent sales tax, first approved in 1998 and renewed by wide margins in 2003 and 2008, has paid for an estimated $557 million worth of school work over the past two decades.
All three Woodlawn schools were built or rebuilt as part of that work, including Woodlawn Middle, which opened in 2006.
Public schools, however, are scarce south of Interstate 10, and the lack of schools there has partially driven recent breakaway school movements.
That movement started with the failed effort to create a southeast Baton Rouge school district in 2012 and 2013, and then morphed in the effort to incorporate a much larger city of St. George, which fell short of making it to the ballot in 2015, though supporters have plans to try again. The city of St. George, once formed, was supposed to quickly become a school district as well, with as many as six new schools.
St. George supporters have crowded meetings before in this part of town, but were not in evidence Tuesday night at Woodlawn Middle School.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is putting together a “wish list” for school const…
A in-house committee spoke to the parish School Board on Sept. 14 and suggested building three new schools at unspecified locations in southeast Baton Rouge, part of as many as 15 schools the committee submitted on its “wish list.”
Drake did not present that list Tuesday night, but noted he’s received 400 pages worth of suggested school construction from school principals.
“Now, we want to hear from you, the community,” he said.
The crowd then broke into five small groups, reconvening in different rooms. Supporters of BR FLAIM — that stands for Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet — were prominent at all of those small groups.
School system employees in each room led these smaller audiences through a series of questions about what kind of school construction they’d like to see. These questions are also in an online survey the school system has posted.
Jenifer Rodriguez, a BR FLAIM parent, came out Tuesday with her husband and two of her four kids. She said she home-schooled her oldest son for 10 years but her youngest children happily go to BR FLAIM and she’d like to see the school expand. Currently, it’s set to move from the two elementary school campuses it occupies near downtown Baton Rouge to the former Valley Park Junior High School at 4510 Bawell St. Supporters, however, would like to see the elementary school expanding into middle school grades.
“We would like to extend the program to a K-8 (grade) school,” Rodriguez said. “We have 25 classrooms there. We need 36.”
Public school options have long been limited for those who live in the southeastern corner o…
Audrey Wascome, a parent at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School, said she wants to see the school renovated and expanded. She said she's been willing to look beyond Sherwood’s appearance, but other parents are put off by it.
George Newman and his wife Janice Miller, a candidate for Baton Rouge City Court judge, came to advocate for doing more for north Baton Rouge, a part of town with lots of schools, but schools that struggle to compete with magnet, charter and private schools. Miller said that without some improvement, parents will continue to leave schools there for those in other parts of town and help spur breakaway movements like St. George.
“You can’t leave behind north Baton Rouge,” she said. “If you do, that area will continue to spiral down.”
A few of those in attendance came to the meeting because of issues with their children.
Megan and Grant Blanchard’s 5-year-old daughter, Aubrie, just started kindergarten at Cedarcrest-Southmoor Elementary, but it hasn’t gone well.
“I don’t like school,” admitted Aubrie.
Her parents say the elementary school needs more playground equipment and more teachers.
“They only have four teachers to watch 120 students,” complained Grant Blanchard.