School Board to discuss programs in highest demand

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is set to get a tutorial Monday night on how its magnet, gifted-and-talented and pre-kindergarten programs work as it tries to figure out how to expand all three.

The programs are among the school system’s more popular offerings, but a combination of limited funding and space has meant the school system has had trouble through the years meeting demand.

The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive. Board members are not expected to vote on the issue.

Board President David Tatman said he’s looking forward to the discussion.

“The question is how do we align our resources as to what our vision is,” Tatman said.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor has sought to expand the three programs since he took the job in June 2012, but for different reasons.

Magnet and gifted-and-talented programs are proven draws for middle-class families in a school system predominated by children who live in poverty.

Expanding the programs has the potential to bring in kids from private schools and charter schools, thereby bringing in more state funding to the public school system.

The pre-kindergarten program’s aim is to get children who live in poverty better prepared for school at an earlier age, increasing their chances of graduating from high school.

Last month, the School Board heard from Gary Asmus, of Baton Rouge, who conducted longitudinal research, which involves studying the same group of individuals over an extended period of time. He found children who went to pre-k in Baton Rouge are doing much better over time than their peers who did not, confirming several early childhood education research studies conducted in other places.

The school system has maintained pre-k enrollment in recent years, but is paying an increasing share of the costs as state support for the program has declined. Still, more than 700 families are on a waiting list, hoping their child gets in the program.

Taylor is seeking to expand pre-k from the 2,400 slots it now has to about 3,400, or the size of kindergarten in Baton Rouge.

He said doing so would cost the system more than $29 million a year. Pre-k would remain free only for low-income children while children from more affluent families, in most cases, would have to pay tuition on a sliding scale.

The selection standards for gifted students is substantially higher than those for magnet students. The interests of both groups have increasingly clashed at the high school level because the strongest demand from both is to get into Baton Rouge Magnet High.

That’s the school system’s flagship high school. It’s one of the highest rated public schools in Louisiana with almost 1,500 students and a regular supply of National Merit scholars.

Magnet students get preferred admission to that high school and over time are taking up more of the slots in the freshman class.

This year, only seven children, who did not attend a magnet middle school or were siblings of students already at Baton Rouge Magnet High, gained admittance. Although it doesn’t offer gifted services, the high school has an array of honors and advanced placement courses.

To meet that demand, the school system is highlighting its other high schools. McKinley and Woodlawn high schools both have gifted-and-talented programs, but they are both much smaller and are part of large, traditional high schools.

Lee, Glen Oaks and Scotlandville high schools also have magnet programs, which the school system is highlighting.

Scotlandville has three magnet programs that collectively educate more than 600 students, a little less than half of its student body.

The school system recently created a promotional video for the high school.

Lee High has about 225 students, but its historic campus on Lee Drive is being rebuilt, and its new facility, once complete in fall 2015, will have space for about 1,200 students.

Glen Oaks High is the smallest with about 110 students.