The plans for the reopening of Istrouma High School call not just for reviving the nearly century-old north Baton Rouge institution but for the re-creation of another long dead but once prominent school, Istrouma Middle Magnet.
Istrouma High, which closed in 2014, and Istrouma Middle, which closed in 2004, would share the 3730 Winbourne Ave. campus. Both would reopen simultaneously in fall 2017.
To make the new middle school a success, East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake is proposing moving the magnet program from a nearby school, Brookstown Middle, onto the Istrouma campus and making it the nucleus of the new Istrouma Middle Magnet School.
On Wednesday, magnet students at Brookstown Middle, located 2 miles away from the historic high school, got a taste of what their new digs will be like as part of a presentation called “Imagine Istrouma.” The students sat and listened to Drake in the Brookstown Middle auditorium, all dressed in the blue blazers that have become the signature of the 2-year-old middle school.
The cost of reconstruction has grown during the planning stages from an estimated $10 million to more than $20 million.
“This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility,” Drake promised.
Earl Kern, project manager with CSRS/Tillage Construction, gave a detailed report. Plans call for rewiring, replumbing and outfitting the old school with a new air-conditioning and heating system. Kern said the middle school will be distinct from the high school.
“We’re creating as much a separation for the middle school as possible,” Kern said.
Terence Dawson, an eighth-grader at Brookstown, said he’s been swayed.
“For years, I have been wanting to go to Baton Rouge High, but after hearing all the plans, I want to attend Istrouma,” Dawson, 14, told his fellow students.
Because reopening Istrouma is a year away, Dawson and other eighth-graders will have to spend ninth grade elsewhere before they try Istrouma.
Amaiya Brown, 15, also in eighth grade, said she too wants to go Istrouma but is looking to spend ninth grade at distant Belaire High, where many former Istrouma students ended up. One of those, Brown said, is her sister, who had attended Istrouma but had to spend her senior year at Belaire after Istrouma closed.
It’s not clear how many of Dawson’s and Brown’s peers will join them.
Jamicia Payne, an administrator at Brookstown Middle, said magnet students at Brookstown in the past have ended up at the most popular high school programs in town, at Baton Rouge, Lee and Scotlandville high schools.
Brookstown students were joined Wednesday by representatives from several community organizations active in the effort to regain local control of Istrouma High from the state-run Recovery School District. RSD took over the school in 2012, closed it two years later and then gave it back to the parish school system in January.
Leading up the groups was a teachers union, the East Baton Rouge Parish branch of the American Federation of Teachers. The union described its presence at Brookstown on Wednesday as a “walk-in” that aims to “reclaim our schools and advocate for great public educations for all children.”
The local branch of its rival, the National Association of Educators, also organized walk-ins at University Terrace Elementary and Broadmoor High schools on Wednesday. The national walk-in campaign is organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national alliance of parent, youth, and community and labor organizations.
Carnell Washington, president of the local American Federation of Teachers branch, urged the Brookstown students in the audience to try Istrouma.
“Why wouldn’t you want to go to a school like this?” he asked.
Washington said the key to Istrouma’s future success is how well it connects with the local community. He said the school plans to offer classes for adults after students leave each day. He described it as a blueprint to prevent future state takeovers.
“We will never, ever lose a school again because we are not involved and not connected,” Washington said.
One part of the plan for Istrouma that is causing some concern is what happens to Brookstown after the magnet program leaves, particularly to the neighborhood students not in the magnet program left behind.
Shatonda Chandler, a parent of a Brookstown student, said she supports moving the magnet program to Istrouma but said she understands parent concerns.
“You’re going to always have some mixed emotions,” she said.