Lee High taking shape, seeking ties to top high school in Natchitoches

Lee High School in Baton Rouge has a new principal, several new teachers and will soon have a new $54.5 million facility capable of educating about 1,200 students.

The 26-acre campus has room to grow larger yet.

To that effect, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has spent months trying to persuade the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches to start a day school at Lee High. So far, though, LSMSA is passing on the idea.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor said he’s planning to seek other potential partners in Baton Rouge if LSMSA ultimately opts out.

“We can have as many high-quality, academically rigorous choices that we can create,” Taylor said. “The idea was not dependent on LSMSA.”

Lee High’s new principal, Nan McCann, is already the principal at Baton Rouge Magnet High and will divide her time between the two schools.

The school system announced her taking over Lee on Tuesday, but she said she accepted the added duties a couple of weeks ago. She said she’s already hired several teachers and developed the school’s budget.

“It’s a great opportunity to put what I know about opening a new school into action,” McCann said.

McCann knows firsthand. Between 2010 and 2012, McCann shepherded Baton Rouge Magnet High through two years in a temporary location while the historic high school was renovated and expanded.

The construction process for Lee High kicks off Thursday at 9 a.m. with a groundbreaking ceremony at 1105 Lee Drive. Milton J. Womack Inc. of Baton Rouge, which submitted the lowest of four bids, is the general contractor. The expected completion date is January 2016, at the start of the second semester of the 2015-16 school year.

The longtime south Baton Rouge public high school was closed in 2009 and reopened three years later. In 2013, it was refashioned yet again as a dedicated magnet school. The idea was to offer another high school option to students who end up on the long waiting list to get into Baton Rouge Magnet High.

Lee High has about 250 students in grades nine, 10 and 11, and is holding classes temporarily at the former Valley Park Alternative School, 4510 Bawell St.

Lee High emphasizes digital arts, as well as science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. When it’s rebuilt, the school plans to add a third magnet, focusing on biomedicine, and all three programs will be housed in separate buildings, or academies.

McCann said she is trying to persuade students to sign up this summer so they are poised to take advantage of the new campus once it opens. Her goal is increase enrollment from an expected 300 students next school year to about 400 students.

“I hope that this will be an answer to some of the needs parents have and that they will get online and register now and not wait for the new school,” she said.

McCann said she will have associate principals at each school who will take over some of the leadership duties and has selected two of her current assistant principals at Baton Rouge Magnet High for those jobs. Tiffany Quiett will now be the associate principal at Baton Rouge Magnet, and Sharon Sims will be the associate principal at Lee High.

McCann’s ascendancy means that both current Lee High Principal Averil Sanders and Assistant Principal John McCann, Nan McCann’s husband, are being reassigned to unspecified jobs.

“A lot of people are asking me, ‘You’re going to be working with your husband?’ and I say, ‘No, he’s gotta go,’ ” she said with a laugh.

There’s room at Lee High for a fourth academy building and, if built, LSMSA is a prime candidate to occupy it.

LSMSA is a residential school that enrolls high-achieving students from across the state in grades 10 to 12. Each year, 25 to 30 come from Baton Rouge. The school has high admissions standards and requires that teachers have master’s degrees in their content area, but they don’t need to be certified.

Patrick Widhalm, executive director of LSMSA, said the rough idea that he and Taylor were working on was to start a combination feeder and satellite school in Baton Rouge that would offer classes in grades six to 12. He said he was impressed with Taylor’s plans for Lee and thought it offered an opportunity to offer more high-quality options in Baton Rouge.

But Widhalm said a lot of questions would have to be addressed, including how to run a successful day school, how to do a middle school right, and how to do it without hurting the Natchitoches school.

The doubts so far are winning out. Widhalm said a committee of the school’s board of directors voted 4-3 last week to reject exploring the idea further. He said the committee will present its recommendation to the full board on June 23. There’s a possibility the full board may still want to keep the idea alive, perhaps by commissioning a study, but he said it’s doubtful.