Istrouma High School Principal Reginald Douglas, a longtime East Baton Rouge educator who led the revival and reopening of the more than century-old school following its lengthy closure, died this weekend of natural causes. He was 51.
School leaders said Sunday that Douglas played a significant role in leading the school’s 2017 reopening, three years after state officials closed the north Baton Rouge school amid declining enrollment and academic performance shortfalls.
“He’s going to be truly, truly missed," said Superintendent Warren Drake. "Mr. Douglas put that school on a pathway for doing outstanding things. It not only revived a school but an entire community.”
The arrival of public school accountability sped up Istrouma's decline. It was eventually labeled a “failing school” before the state took it over in 2012.
By the time state officials closed the historic school ahead of the 2014 school year, only about 150 students were enrolled. The decision sparked protests and claims that it left a crater in north Baton Rouge and saw a push to see it reopened.
The district raised more than $24 million to renovate and reopen it, and took back control of it before reopening it as a sixth- to 12th-grade school. It marked the first time a public school had been returned to a local district in Louisiana, Drake said.
Douglas had begun his career there as a social studies teacher in 1999 and told The Advocate in 2017 that his return was "almost like coming back home."
Woody Jenkins, an Istrouma alumnus and member of the committee that picked Douglas to head the school, said the abrupt loss has rippled throughout the school community, as well as alumni circles who fought to reopen the school.
“You could just tell he was the man for the job,” Jenkins said. “He completely turned it around.”
Enrollment records show Istrouma has more than a thousand students with those figures boosted by adding a middle school.
Jenkins attributed much of the turnaround to Douglas’ leadership, saying that he’d spend much of the school day interacting with students. “There was one place you would never find him: his office,” Jenkins said. “He was always out of the office talking and working with kids.”
The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office said Douglas died Saturday night of natural causes at a hospital. Douglas’ family requested privacy on Sunday.
School officials said grief counselors will be on the school's campus this week for students and staff.