As she has on first days of school in years past, LaQuida Davis stood in her doorway Wednesday morning, hugging one child after another as they bounded into her classroom, fresh from summer break.
This year, though, was sweeter than the ones before. Her school, Glen Oaks Park Elementary, was renovated this summer to repair damage from the August 2016 floods, which devastated much of the capital region. For the entire 2016-17 school year, she and the Glen Oaks Park community held school 5 miles away, at the unfamiliar and dilapidated former Banks Elementary. She’s relieved to be back at 5656 Lanier Drive.
“I think of this place as my home,” Davis said.
On the morning of Jan. 19, heavy rain began to fall on Baton Rouge, and the effect at Glen O…
The renovations brought with it new furniture as well as a new interactive whiteboard, newer than the ones at Lee High, she noted. And Davis added her own touches.
“I spent a lot of my own money because I wanted it to look nice,” she said. “Walmart, Michaels and Hobby Lobby — they were my best friends.”
Going home was a recurring theme Wednesday as the 2017-18 school year got underway at most public schools in Baton Rouge and at those in surrounding parishes.
Glen Oaks Park is one of four Baton Rouge public schools that returned Wednesday to their once-flooded, now-repaired homes. The other newly flood-renovated schools are Brookstown Middle, Glen Oaks High and Park Forest Elementary.
All of the flooded Baton Rouge schools suffered enrollment losses last year. Early indications are those losses are persisting, though some schools have made up ground.
For instance, Twin Oaks Elementary was initially down about 200 students post-flood. But the school building reopened quickly, two months after the floods, and steadily regained students. On Wednesday, the school had 500 students, 48 fewer than the first day a year ago.
By contrast, the enrollment at Greenbrier Elementary has yet to recover. Greenbrier is one of two flooded schools still operating elsewhere and is down about 160 students compared with the first day of school a year ago.
The sun rose just as the first buses rolled into the parking lot Wednesday morning at the ne…
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system on Wednesday reported a total of 40,385 students. That’s 1,403 fewer students than the first day of school a year ago. That’s a 3.3 percent decline if it persists, one large enough to have potentially large financial consequences. Official enrollment counts that dictate funding aren’t taken until Oct. 1.
Superintendent Warren Drake cautioned that the school system shifted this year to a new student information system, and a few schools have yet to input all their enrolled students.
“Give us a couple of days to get those things worked out,” Drake said.
Like Glen Oaks Park, Istrouma High reopened Wednesday in celebratory fashion, but Istrouma's journey home had nothing to do with the flood.
In 2014, the state closed the north Baton Rouge institution, two years after taking it over from the parish school system. The decision sparked an outcry in the surrounding community, a petition drive, and a strong push among local elected leaders to get the school back. The Istrouma closure coincided with the closure of Redemptorist High and the decline of other high schools in the area.
The announcement three weeks ago that Redemptorist High will close when the school year ends…
After his appointment in June 2015 as parish schools superintendent, Drake made getting Istrouma back his first order of business. He described it as a way to restore public education to an area where it was suddenly in short supply.
“We have no high school in 70805,” Drake said repeatedly, referring to Istrouma’s ZIP code.
Seven months after coming on board, Drake persuaded state leaders to part with the vacant property. Drake then cobbled together $24.1 million to refurbish the place.
Drake was at the school as the sun rose Wednesday and at 6 a.m. walked in an unlikely first student.
“It was an exchange student from Poland,” Drake said, noting the student is staying with a teacher at the high school.
There were other unlikely things to see. An older man with a beard, sporting an Istrouma High Class of '65 T-shirt, was slowly banging a bass drum. He was part of a group of volunteers who drummed overnight Tuesday until the start of school. It was a revival of an old tradition at the school where students would bang the drum for days before football games.
Jackie Mims, a member of the Istrouma Advisory Council, which helped oversee the reopened high school, had a big smile on her face.
“You know where I was going to be this morning!” Mims said. “I remember when we were told this would never happen.”
About 400 ninth- and 10th-graders showed up Wednesday at Istrouma. Almost all of them live in Istrouma’s north Baton Rouge attendance zone and in the past few years were sent to distant Belaire High School.
For Dwayne Joseph, having his son attend a neighborhood school was a big draw. It was such a draw that Joseph transferred 15-year-old Ammar Hall from Lee High, an increasingly popular school that added more than 200 students this year, to try out the new Istrouma High.
“Now he gets to sleep another hour,” Joseph said.
Joseph said he hopes the reopening of Istrouma is the beginning of bringing schools in Baton Rouge closer to home, saying that was the norm in Oakland, California, where he grew up.
Topeka Ringo had similar sentiments. Her daughter Tamyia, 14, went to Broadmoor Middle last year and she was eager to have her go to school closer to the Istrouma area where she grew up. That was complicated when her home flooded a year ago, but she said she’s managed to move back to the area.
Ringo also had fond memories of the year in the 1990s when she attended the old Istrouma High, leaving only because her family moved.
“I couldn’t wait to go to Istrouma,” she recalled. “This was my neighborhood school.”
Istrouma High School is reopening Aug. 9, but its sixth-to-eighth-graders will spend the fir…
Istrouma High's return is not yet complete. Drake decided to add middle school grades to the high school, but the middle school wing, on the school’s bottom floor, is still under construction and won’t be complete until December. In the meantime, those middle school students, about 120 of them, are being educated at the former Eden Park Elementary.
Glen Oaks Park Elementary isn’t quite complete, either: Its classrooms lack doors.
“Finding doors was an issue at several schools,” Drake said. “I don’t know if there was a door shortage.”
Worried about distractions to her fourth-graders, Glen Oaks Parks’ Davis employed a simple solution: She installed a curtain.