The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday agreed to hire LSU for $1.5 million over the next five years to help Lee High School create three specialized academies focusing on digital arts, biomedicine, and science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
The agreement, which is with LSU’s Cain Center, also would pay for the development and training of teachers for dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses at Lee and nearby McKinley High School starting this fall. The contract starts in July and ends in summer 2020. It calls for spending $300,000 a year with the Cain Center.
“It’s a win-win for the district, for the students, for the schools,” board member Connie Bernard said.
The vote was unanimous, with board member Barbara Freiberg abstaining; Freiberg is a former employee of the Cain Center. Board member Kenyetta Nelson-Smith was absent.
Board member Vereta Lee voted for the contract, but only after persuading the board to add language that would require the Cain Center to start offering its services districtwide after a year. The original contract didn’t set a timeline for that to happen.
“We are selecting schools that are already doing well, and I would like to see this opportunity extended to everyone,” Lee said.
Frank Neubrander, the Cain Center’s co-director and an LSU math professor, said he will likely have to return to the School Board to ask for more money before the center can work with teachers at more high schools.
“On the financial level, I’m not sure we can provide the budget on $300,000 that is here,” Neubrander said.
Lee High was converted to a schoolwide magnet program in 2013, and the facility has been torn down and is being rebuilt at a cost of $54.5 million, with a target completion in January 2017.
Leslie Defley, president of Lee High’s Patriot Parents group, said the agreement with the Cain Center has been two years in the making.
The contract calls for focusing on “STEM education, digital media and arts, biosciences, engineering and robotics, foreign languages, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement and project-based learning.”
Neubrander said the Cain Center will coordinate work between Lee and McKinley high schools and every college at LSU to help further the partnership.
Also on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to move 324 incoming students who would have gone to Glasgow, Southeast and Westdale middle schools this fall to other middle schools. Most will go to Capitol Middle School, but 33 students will head to Broadmoor Middle, and 20 students will move to Brookstown Middle.
The board, meanwhile, put off until June 4 a special meeting on whether to accept or reject proposals from four private groups seeking to start Type 1 charter schools in Baton Rouge in fall 2016.
Outside evaluator Kimberly Williams on May 7 recommended rejecting all four proposals. Williams, however, was absent from Thursday’s meeting, a bone of contention with several board members.
Bernard also said she’d like to see a new effort to persuade one or more of the applicants to consider entering a partnership with the school system, rather than setting up an independent school.
The four applicants are: APEX Southeast Inc., which wants to open a sixth- to 12th-grade school for up to 690 students; Communities Shaping Education, which proposed a kindergarten to fifth-grade school topping at 288 students; Crossover House, which would run an alternative high school for 224 students; and Laurel Oaks Foundation Inc., which would open a kindergarten to eighth-grade elementary topping at 716 students.
Williams said on May 7 that all four proposals had their strengths but were undermined by a variety of weaknesses. For instance, Crossover House’s team was strong in terms of dealing with social and emotional issues of troubled teenagers, but she was not impressed by their academic plan or experience.
The board has until June 4 to approve or reject the applications. If rejected, applicants can appeal to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. BESE has until Oct. 14 to rule on those appeals.
Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.