Inside Report: Gifted students feed BR High’s academic success

Since 2008, Baton Rouge Magnet High School has had 77 students identified as National Merit semifinalists, far more than other high schools in the area.

It turns out that 47 of those National Merit semifinalists — six out of 10 — spent middle school down the road at Glasgow Middle School, according to figures provided by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Former Glasgow students in this winner’s circle far outnumber their peers from other middle schools.

Those include Westdale and Woodlawn middle schools, which, like Glasgow, offer services for children identified as gifted.

Glasgow kids also outnumber students from four middle schools with magnet programs, students who consequently enjoy preferred admittance to Baton Rouge Magnet High and make up most of its students.

Glasgow’s special place in the pantheon of feeder schools is being sorely tested.

In January, Baton Rouge Magnet High held its annual lottery. Out of 400 slots set aside for ninth-graders, 393 were automatically filled, mostly by students from magnet schools, but also by those whose siblings already were attending the high school. That left just seven slots for everyone else, including Glasgow students.

The news caused a panic, nowhere greater than at Glasgow. Gifted parents, most from Glasgow, crowded a subsequent meeting where educators from two other high schools, McKinley and Woodlawn, which like Glasgow offer gifted services, tried to explain why gifted kids should be satisfied with their schools instead.

A trickle of Glasgow kids has since gained belated acceptance to Baton Rouge Magnet, and undoubtedly more still will.

For most, though, the search goes on, and many consider Baton Rouge Magnet High their only viable option. The prospect of being shut out of that school has spurred a frenzied search for alternatives.

LSU math professor Frank Neubrander has a daughter at Baton Rouge Magnet who went to Glasgow and a son in sixth grade at Glasgow now.

Neubrander said he sees the new Lee High, about to be rebuilt, as a key opportunity.

He is pressing local leaders to bring in IBM’s Pathways in Technology Program to make Lee more attractive.

He said Baton Rouge High’s draw often comes from academically driven Glasgow students themselves who want to congregate with peers.

“The cool kids go to Baton Rouge High,” said Neubrander, co-director of LSU’s Cain Center.

Glasgow’s gifted program is very strong, especially in math, said Neubrander, who is from Germany.

“I’m sure that my kids have a much better education here than my sister whose kids go to the best schools in Munich,” Neubrander said.

Baton Rouge Magnet draws gifted kids despite not offering self-contained gifted services. Classes there can top out at 33 students. Gifted classes at McKinley and Woodlawn by contrast max out at 19 students and are taught by gifted-certified teachers.

Julie Sheffield said her daughter followed her friends to Baton Rouge Magnet, but transferred to McKinley while still in ninth grade. McKinley is not perfect, but she said her daughter much prefers the instruction there to Baton Rouge Magnet High, which was dominated by lectures.

“She hated it,” Sheffield said. “A lot of the kids at Baton Rouge High, they are really stressed out because they have so much homework, and a lot of it is busywork.”

Charles Lussier writes about education in East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate. He can be reached at clussier@theadvocate.com.

Editor’s note: The column was changed on April 15 to switch scholarships to semifinalists and to give the correct schools for Neubrander’s children.