Magnet school ideas heard

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND Cindy Ristroph presents her group's ideas Wednesday night  for a new magnet program at Lee High School during forum in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system's Instructional Resource Center. Participants were asked to record their answers and thoughts to specific questions regarding the program's possible structure and content.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND Cindy Ristroph presents her group's ideas Wednesday night for a new magnet program at Lee High School during forum in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system's Instructional Resource Center. Participants were asked to record their answers and thoughts to specific questions regarding the program's possible structure and content.

Filmmaking, nursing, aerospace, culinary arts, foreign language training, even wetlands management were some career ideas that about 45 people came up with Wednesday night at a forum to discuss a proposed new magnet program for Lee High School.

“Nothing is set in stone about what kind of theme we’re going to implement. That’s why we want to hear from you tonight,” Carlos Sam, assistant superintendent for school leadership and instruction, told the audience in the Instructional Resource Center, next to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board office.

A similar meeting was held in June, but it was broader, soliciting ideas for the entire school in advance of its reopening in August.

Lee High was closed in 2009 to avert a state takeover.

Sam has said that one idea being seriously considered is to center the program around science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, but with some art added, which earns the acronym, STEAM. Several of the speakers mentioned similar ideas.

Lee High’s magnet program will be the 15th such program in the parish school system.

While applications for the 14 magnet programs already operating is under way, and ends Dec. 14, the school system is proposing a second round starting in March when interested families could apply to the new Lee High School magnet program.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Sam said.

Averil Sanders, principal of the reopened Lee, which has 226 ninth and 10th graders, said he’s excited about the interest he’s seen so far, saying “this is a time to dream big.”

Sanders said he has been talking with Baton Rouge Community College about allowing students to get course credit with the college, enough to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school.

The school system gave audience members information on the current national job market broken down by job category, as well as a long list of potential magnet program themes to consider.

Laura Boord, a special education teacher at Lee High, said the school needs to teach problem solving and thinking skills and not get too married to training people for careers in an ever- changing job market.

“To train them just for jobs is not enough,” Boord said. “You have to be flexible.”

Superintendent Bernard Taylor has floated the idea of creating magnet programs at at least six more schools, but Lee High is the only definite one.

Lee is also one of four schools for which the school system plans to seek a large federal grant.

Lee High plans to add an 11th grade next year and a 12th grade in fall 2014.

Principal Sanders said the plan is to not have a sharp divide between the traditional school and the magnet program. To that effect, traditional students would have an easier time gaining admission to the magnet program than other magnet schools in the parish that usually require a minimum grade point average and at least average test scores.

Sanders said the one idea is that students would have to submit a portfolio of their work for admission to Lee High’s magnet program.

The School Board voted Nov. 15 to rebuild the old rundown campus at 1105 Lee Drive, requiring a two-year relocation until construction finishes in summer 2015. The district has not decided where Lee High students will attend classes during the interim.

Some speakers offered thoughts on what the new facility should look like, suggesting more traditional designs to concepts that avoid traditional classrooms for decentralized work spaces with heavy emphasis on technology.

“There’s so much possibility. It’s really an excellent location, in the middle of the city,” said Cindy Ristroph, an engineer and a nearby resident. “You have no idea how happy I am that (the school) is going to stay there.”

School Board President Barbara Freiberg, a graduate of Lee High, said the school system would keep in touch. “Stay with us in this process,” she said. “Don’t leave us now.”