EBR school leaders meet with parents over changes

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Carlos Sam, associate superintendent for school leadership and instruction, goes over admission criteria for a new Lee High magnet program at an informational meeting in the school's cafeteria Tuesday. Rather than requiring a minimum grade-point average to get in, students will have to maintain a 2.5 GPA to stay in the new magnet program.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Carlos Sam, associate superintendent for school leadership and instruction, goes over admission criteria for a new Lee High magnet program at an informational meeting in the school's cafeteria Tuesday. Rather than requiring a minimum grade-point average to get in, students will have to maintain a 2.5 GPA to stay in the new magnet program.

With just four months until the start of the new school year, East Baton Rouge Parish school leaders are visiting four Baton Rouge schools this week to explain to parents and community members the big changes in store.

Lee High and Belfair Elementary held informational sessions Tuesday night about the conversion of their schools into dedicated magnet programs.

The next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Delmont Elementary to discuss how that school is being converted to an early childhood center. The final meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday at Mayfair Middle, a school that is to become an elementary school modeled after LSU Lab School.

Lee High’s renaissance has been the longest in coming, starting with the decision last year to reopen the south Baton Rouge school, which had been closed in 2009 to avert a potential state takeover.

Principal Averil Sanders told an audience of about 90 people gathered in the Lee High cafeteria Tuesday that the high school will shift as it grows, adding programs, trying to meet the demands of a changing job market as well as the desires of the community.

“We can’t give you a cookie-cutter school because that’s not what’s going to make your children successful,” Sanders said.

The changes will be apparent this summer when the building is torn down, the first step in a $58 million rebuilding project agreed to by voters in 2008 and greenlighted by the School Board in November. The students will spend the next two years on the campus of Valley Park Alternative School until the new Lee High is finished in fall 2015.

Another part of Lee High’s renaissance is a new magnet program that will be added to try to attract the many families who live near the 1105 Lee Drive campus but don’t send their children to public schools. The School Board approved that new magnet design March 21.

The new Lee High program, which begins in August, will focus on science, technology, engineering and math, plus arts, making the acronym STEAM. The arts portion of the program focuses on digital animation, and visual and performing arts.

The school system has a late application period, starting Monday and ending March 24.

The high school, which reopened in April after three years of being closed, will increase from 223 students to an estimated 450 students in the 2013-14 school year and to 600 students the following school year.

Instead of the original idea of adding a small magnet program that would operate alongside the traditional neighborhood school, the board agreed to make the entire school a magnet program.

An interested student will have to submit an application, be interviewed as well as take an aptitude test designed to determine what magnet theme he should pursue.

Unlike Baton Rouge Magnet High, where students need high enough test scores and a minimum 2.5 grade-point average to get in, students interested in the proposed Lee High magnet will have to fill out an “interest inventory/aptitude” form. To remain in the program, students will have to maintain a 2.5 GPA, a B average, as well as good attendance.

Errol Taylor Jr., a graduate of Lee High and the father of two Lee High students, said he likes the new retention requirement because it will ensure that only dedicated students remain.

“We can get your foot in the door, but it’s up to you to make it work,” Taylor said.

In 2013-14, preference for admission will go to students in Lee High’s current attendance zone, followed by students in attendance zones for McKinley, Tara and Woodlawn high schools, and then everyone else.

Students who opt out will be reassigned to McKinley or Tara high schools.

In 2014-15, preference for admission will go to students who graduated from a middle school magnet program in the parish.

Second preference will go to those living in the Lee High zone, followed by those in the three neighboring high schools and then everyone else.

Joel Dicharry, whose daughter Nina attends nearby Glasgow Middle and who lives in Southdowns subdivision, said his daughter is on the long waiting list to get into Baton Rouge Magnet High.

He said he is excited to potentially have a good option so close by, though he hopes the school adds more art as it goes along.

Indeed, in 2015, when the school moves back to a rebuilt Lee, it plans to expand, including dramatically ramping up its planned digital animation program.

Sanders talked at length about how the school plans to offer dual enrollment courses that would allow students to earn enough college credits for an associate’s degree while still in high school.

Sanders was less positive on adding too many sports, including football, too quickly.

“I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not here to make NFL players. I’m not here to make NBA players,” he said. “I’m here to get kids to college.”