BR.broadmoornewschool.070321 0027 bf.jpg

Exterior of Broadmoor Middle School Thursday July 1, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. Sito Narcisse's proposal is to turn the school, which was closed two years ago, into a grades 6-12 Visual and Performing Arts School, which two elementary schools that focus on visual and performing arts would feed into. There's some history to this idea. Buckskin Bill Black when he was on the board was a big booster of an arts program at that school that got closed as part of the settlement of the deseg case in 2007. But the new program would also compete with McKinley Middle School, which has an active visual & performing arts program. That’s ironic because Broadmoor Middle’s program was closed in part so it wouldn’t compete with McKinley Middle.

An East Baton Rouge delegation led by Superintendent Sito Narcisse and several School Board members are visiting Miami next week to visit arts-oriented schools.

The trip is part of Narcisse’s effort to sell the board on creating a conservatory-style performing arts middle-high school on the vacant Broadmoor Middle campus. The 1225 Sharp Road campus is in line for $15 million in renovations. 

The trip, which starts Sunday and wraps up Wednesday, will also bring Baton Rouge visitors to a career-focused high school run by Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

In response to written questions from The Advocate, Narcisse said that he wants the board to see examples of “innovative and successful schools” as it considers his arts school proposal as well as a new career training programs in Baton Rouge.

“It is our belief that by expanding access to quality academic programs, state-of-the-art facilities and a student-centered curriculum that is both engaging and transferable to post-secondary endeavors, our school district will become the number one choice for families in our community,” Narcisse wrote.

Six of the nine board members plan to go. Staying behind are board members Mark Bellue, Connie Bernard and David Tatman.

The six board members joining the delegation will be joined by the superintendent, several school staff members and community leaders. School officials did not supply a requested list of who else would be going.

“I do know that invitations were sent to stakeholders from the Arts Council (of Greater Baton Rouge), the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s office,” said Alex Stubbs, chief of communications, who will be going. “Those partners will be responsible for covering the cost of their own travel.”

School employees and board members attending will pay for their travel from existing travel budgets, Stubbs said, but she said she did not as yet have an estimate of the overall cost.

Board members are allotted a maximum of $5,500 each annually for professional travel.

Board member Dadrius Lanus said there are other local lawmakers who may come but he’s not sure who. He promised that this is no “leisure trip.”

“This is going to be strictly business,” Lanus said.

Adam Knapp, BRAC’s president and chief executive officer, said one of his staff members will be part of the delegation and he plans to come himself for part of the trip.

“It sounds like a good-sized group,” Knapp said. “(Miami) sounds like they have some impressive arts schools and workforce programs.”

Tatman, the board’s president, said he didn’t feel the need to go as well because he feels versed enough in the topic. He cites past experience working with NOCCA — New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

This is not the first time a quorum of board members have traveled together, though most of those past trips were to professional conferences.

Gwynn Shamlin, general counsel for the school system, said Louisiana’s open meeting law “does not apply to chance meetings or social gatherings of members of a public body at which there is no vote or other action taken.”

The delegation will arrive Sunday and leave Wednesday and will visit as many as six Miami public schools on Monday and Tuesday as well as Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. These schools include Dr. Toni Bilbao Preparatory Academy, iPrep Academy, iPrep Academy North, Miami Arts Studio 6-12, Miami Lakes Educational Center and New World School of the Arts.

Narcisse has been talking up the idea of starting a performing school for the upper grades since soon after he took over as superintendent in January. He said that several cities he’s worked in previously had such schools. He also views such a school as a logical endpoint for students attending popular art-oriented elementary schools such as Baton Rouge Center for the Visual and Performing Arts and Forest Heights Academy of Excellence.

When the board debated the idea in July, board members had lots of questions. So Narcisse decided to develop the idea further as well as to hold town halls to get more public input.

And he also began talking internally about having board members travel to see a city with an arts school, considering several cities before settling on Miami.

This will not be the first cultural exchange between Miami and Baton Rouge. In early August, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho was a surprise guest at a school leadership conference Narcisse held at Liberty High in Baton Rouge.

Stubbs said that Narcisse knew Carvalho professionally prior to August, having followed his work in Miami for years  Carvalho has been superintendent there since 2008. During that August visit, Stubbs said, Carvalho invited Narciess to come to Miami to “learn more about some of the best practices and innovative work” being done there “around school models and academic acceleration for students.”

A presentation on the proposed arts school in Baton Rouge is planned when the board meets on Nov. 4, the day after the delegation returns.

Lanus said he’s in favor of the idea conceptually but wants to see the details first. He said he has seen the power of the arts since he learned violin in elementary school.

“I want to see us become a more innovative school district where we are using more innovative models,” Lanus said. “For the kids we serve, we can’t do one-size-fits-all. We are too big and too diverse.”

Board member Mike Gaudet had similar sentiments, but he said the successful arts schools he’s seen have strong academic programs.

“I don’t want to have a performing arts school that sacrifices academics,” Gaudet said.

Board members Tatman and Dawn Collins, who is going on the trip, have more concerns about the proposal, particularly that if not organized right it would draw away too many students from other middle and high schools in town.


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.