The leader of the “new” Lee High School, which promises to be one of Baton Rouge’s most unusual schools, told a luncheon audience Wednesday that her two years overseeing the school’s transformation have put her to the test as an educator like nothing else has.
“Making sure that it is special is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Nan McCann told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.
Lee High, which is set to reopen in August at its historic home a 1105 Lee Drive, is nearing completion of a $54.7 million reconstruction. Rather than a traditional neighborhood high school, Lee High was reenvisioned as a 21st-century school full of technology, with a special emphasis on learning through student projects. The result looks less like a high school and more like a community college, or perhaps a Silicon Valley office complex.
McCann, who also serves as principal of the Capital City’s flagship public high school, Baton Rouge Magnet High, has worked at traditional public high schools in town her whole career. In 2014, she was tapped by then Superintendent Bernard Taylor to forge an unusual academic approach for the new school.
McCann said on Wednesday that she ended up making use of everything she’s ever learned as an educator. The effort has also called upon her to get out of her comfort zone, to try things she’s never considered before, to fulfill the mission she was given to create a “school like no other.”
Thanks to a far-reaching partnership struck last year, Lee High will serve as an “early college” to LSU, affording students opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school via dual enrollment. The school’s rich technology offerings will also allow for extensive distance learning.
McCann said the next year the school will have 17 dual enrollment offerings with LSU, setting it in a class by itself.
“There is no other school in the state of Louisiana that is offering anything like this,” she said. “No other school.”
The four buildings under construction include a commons building with a cafeteria and a gym and three identically built academies with distinct themes: bioscience, digital and media arts, and engineering and robotics. Each academy has a massive three-story atrium intended for large projects, which the architects call the “wow space.”
McCann said the “wow spaces” still need to be filled with labs, including an engineering-and-robotics lab and a digital animation center. The Foundation for East Baton Rouge School System, which is affiliated with the parish school system, has been laboring to connect the school system with private donors. The labs will cost collectively about $1 million, she said.
“We are looking for partners,” she said. “We just need a little money.”
Afterwards Ted Firnberg, who is president of the foundation’s board, said the foundation lost its original executive director, Janet Pace, late last year. They recently hired Keila Stovall, who until recently was president and chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls club of Southeast Louisiana, to take Pace’s place. He said he expects that the foundation and the school system will soon find the additional donors needed to complete the labs.