BR High alumni ask White to reverse agency’s magnet decision

Alumni of Baton Rouge Magnet High School sent Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White a letter Wednesday asking him to reverse his agency’s recent decision to exclude magnet schools such as theirs from consideration for a prestigious national award.

The U.S. Department of Education gives Blue Ribbon School of Excellence honors to schools that either are among the nation’s top performers or have shown significant progress in improving student achievement.

This year, White’s agency adopted new criteria listing 11 steps schools have to pass to be nominated. No. 11 specifies that the school must “have not been designated as a magnet school.”

Wednesday’s letter was signed by Lauren Ford and J. Matthew Robinson, the executive director and president, respectively, of the Baton Rouge High School Foundation.

“We can think of nothing that justifies such an exclusion, which affects not only our alma mater, but seemingly all magnet schools in the state,” Ford and Robinson wrote.

They said their high school has led the capital region consistently in National Merit recipients, Advanced Placement scholars, Presidential Scholars, and in math and science competitions.

“We therefore are baffled by the prospect that Baton Rouge Magnet High will arbitrarily and unfairly be excluded from Blue Ribbon consideration in the future,” the two wrote.

The high school, one of the top-ranked schools in the state academically, won Blue Ribbon honors in 1983 and 2003. It also has many prominent graduates, including Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Ford said the foundation had yet to receive response to the letter as of late Thursday.

Asked for comment on the plea by the Baton Rouge High alumni, a spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education, Barry Landry, issued a statement almost identical to one he gave The Advocate on March 29.

Landry said his department decided to nominate only non-selective schools for the national recognition, but didn’t explain why magnet schools were being excluded. Next year, he said, the agency will “adjust its criteria” so it nominates selective schools for national honors as well.

Landry, once again, wouldn’t specify whether magnet schools will be eligible.

Magnet schools began as a desegregation tool, using specialized programs to attract a diverse set of students. Not all are selective. For instance, in Baton Rouge, there are 15 schools that offer a total of 18 magnet programs; six of those programs have no academic admission criteria.

Meanwhile, other Louisiana public schools are selective and are eligible for Blue Ribbon nomination. They include university lab schools, a handful of charter schools in New Orleans, and state-run schools such as the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in Natchitoches.

Louisiana’s new Blue Ribbon criteria was included in a stack of documents the state released earlier this month to state Reps. Pat Smith and Alfred C. Williams, both D-Baton Rouge. Both are former School Board members in Baton Rouge.

The lawmakers asked for the public records after the agency failed to nominate Parkview Elementary for a Blue Ribbon, even though it met the new criteria. Parkview was belatedly nominated March 13, the same day state officials were asked why Parkview hadn’t been nominated. Williams has asked the state inspector general to investigate.