School officials discuss ways to restore prominence to Istrouma High _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Brookstown Middle Magnet Academy, where officials made a presentation Wednesday to highlight the imminent reopening of Istrouma High School and encourage Brookstown's students to consider enrolling in the school.

After just seven years in existence, Brookstown Middle School is on the cusp of closing to make way for an alternative school that’s spent years looking for a better home.

The closure, which the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is set to vote on Thursday night, would send Brookstown’s 300 students two miles south to Capitol Middle, which 500 students attend. Once the 4375 E. Brookstown Road campus is vacated when the school year ends in May, EBR Readiness Superintendent’s Academy, an alternative high school for students with disciplinary problems, would take its place.

The move would provide a permanent home for EBR Readiness, a school that has been trying for years to get out its dilapidated campus at the former Banks Elementary in Scotlandville.

The merged Brookstown and Capitol middle schools would feed into Istrouma High and have an attendance zone identical to Istrouma, with Florida Boulevard as the southern boundary and Airline Highway marking its northern and eastern borders.

Closing Brookstown Middle would be the latest in a series of changes remaking schooling for middle school-age children in north Baton Rouge. It is one of the few traditional middle schools left in the area as the district shifts to K-8 configurations and as charter schools, which are also primarily K-8, take increasingly more students.

It also caps a turbulent short existence for Brookstown, which was flooded in August 2016 and soon after damaged in a fire, which required extensive renovations. The middle school opened in fall 2014 as a half traditional, half magnet campus. In 2017, its magnet program moved to Istrouma High.

Superintendent Sito Narcisse drew criticism last week after releasing the closure proposal without first informing Brookstown's faculty about the plan. He subsequently apologized and belatedly sent a team of administrators to the school to explain the change.

The School Board voted 5-0 on April 15 to give preliminary approval to the plan. Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson abstained; colleagues Connie Bernard, Tramelle Howard and David Tatman were absent.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

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

In a memo dated that same day explaining his rationale for the move, Narcisse argued that merging the schools “would allow Capitol Middle School to be used efficiently and operate at approximately 85-90% of its capacity while allowing the EBR Readiness Alternative School to move to a permanent facility that provides a renovated and welcoming school with functional space for high school students.”

“When you have a facility that’s more full, you can scale up and offer more opportunities, more electives, things like that,” Associate Superintendent Ben Necaise told the board.

Dadrius Lanus, who represents much of the area, had objected to a proposal in December to move EBR Readiness to the former Glen Oaks Middle School, saying he’d only support that move if the school system was willing to spend a lot more to fully renovate that facility.

Lanus, however, supports the idea of moving EBR Readiness to the Brookstown campus.

EBR Readiness currently has only about 40 students in grade nine to 12, a number down in large part because of the ongoing pandemic, but it has at times educated more than 250 students.

Corhanda Corley, a parent who speaks at many board meetings, said putting Brookstone and Capitol students together will likely prompt a lot of neighborhood-based conflicts.

“That’s not going to fly to merge that into one building,” she said.

Lanus, however, downplayed such concerns, saying he, too, is familiar with those neighborhoods. He also noted that both Brookstown and Capitol have F letter grades from the state.

“Those schools need a real opportunity to thrive," he said, "and I think this plan will allow them a real opportunity to thrive together."


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