Claiborne Elementary School faculty and staff got their first look Monday morning at their $17.2 million home.
“This is beautiful, gorgeous,” said Karen Jarrett, who has worked the past four years at Delmont Elementary School before coming to Claiborne, as she looked around her new classroom.
Parents are being invited to get their look at a school rally Saturday morning, and students are set to show up for their first day, Aug. 10.
Allysia Cleveland was preparing Monday for the children’s imminent arrival.
She set out plastic flowers for the fifth-graders whom she had yet to meet or even learn their names — she doesn’t have a roster yet — and set down a welcome mat.
“They spend more hours in this classroom than at home,” Cleveland said. “It’s important to make it look welcoming.”
The facility the students will spend all that time in, starting eight days from now, is the largest elementary school the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has built since it began constructing new schools again 12 years ago after a quarter-century of no school construction.
The two-story building, uncommon for newly constructed public schools these days, has 94,698 square feet and can enroll up to 825 students in grades pre-kindergarten to five. When full, it will hold more children than any other elementary school in the school system.
The students won’t spend as much time at Claiborne as they might have. Last year, school was in session for 10 months and was supposed to increase to 11 months for the 2011-12 school year. The year-round school program, however, was cut from the district’s budget, putting both Claiborne and Park elementary school, the other school participating in the experiment, back on the same schedule.
“Some schools let up towards the end of the year,” said Arneisha Brisco, a third-grade teacher and a mentor to other teachers. “Not us. There was no let up at all.”
Brisco began her teaching career at Claiborne in 2006 in the old one-story building at 4700 Denham St. that has since been torn down.
From 2010 to now, Claiborne students were split into separate campuses away from their old school. The children in pre-kindergarten to second grades, at what was known as Claiborne Lower, went to the former Winbourne Elementary school. Meanwhile, the children in grades three to five went to the former Eden Park elementary, which was dubbed Claiborne Upper.
Brisco is happy to leave the old Eden Park building behind.
“You came to school sometimes no air, sometimes no heat,” he said.
She remembers covering every inch of wall at the old Eden Park to obscure its decay.
Some of Brisco’s former students left Claiborne during its two years of exile, shrinking the school’s enrollment. New competition appeared last year in Inspire Charter Academy, a new elementary charter school approved by the school system. Inspire built its campus a few blocks away along North Foster Drive from the construction of the new Claiborne.
Brisco, however, said she is seeing some former students return and suspects they are being pulled in by the prospect of a new school building.
David LaViscount, a fourth-grade teacher, is starting his first year in teaching, but spent his summer training at the old Eden Park building. Like Brisco, he doesn’t miss it.
“The air conditioning was so loud it made it hard to teach,” he recalled. “Sometimes you had to turn it off to settle everyone down.”
As LaViscount arrived at work Monday morning, he and other Claiborne faculty got a 30-minute lecture on ways to maintain the building’s condition.
“We want it to look like it does for as long as possible,” Earl Kern, program manager for CSRS/Garrard Program Management, which oversaw the school’s construction, told the faculty seated in the school’s library. “The taxpayers need to see what they paid for.”
LaViscount appreciated the message. He said he prefers things clean and orderly and expects that his new students will come to feel the same.
These new students include not only returning Claiborne students, but also students from Banks and Brookstown elementary schools, which both closed in May. Brookstown’s small gifted program also moved to the rebuilt Claiborne.
Cleveland is taking the changes in the students in stride. She notes that Claiborne, like many Baton Rouge schools, has a mobile student body, with students coming and going throughout the years.
“There’s a lot more than what’s in the textbooks and in your teacher training to learn to be a teacher,” she said.