Istrouma Grads Back Reopening School

Istrouma Grads Back Reopening School

As more than 1,000 graduates of Istrouma High and other schools gathered for the annual North Baton Rouge Reunion at the Belle Atrium July 9, the graduates expressed their dismay at the closure of Istrouma High last fall. The mostly white group expressed solidarity with more recent, mostly black alumni groups who are demanding that the school on Winbourne Avenue re-open as soon as possible.

At the Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon Tuesday, new East Baton Rouge Parish schools Supt. Warren Drake expressed similar views.

Three years ago, the State Recovery School District took over Istrouma High after it was declared a failing school based on school performance scores.  The state then operated it for two years before closing it in May 2014.

The state did not close the school as a poorly performing school but as an economy move because of low attendance.  Only about 190 students were attending when the school was closed.

There is no public high school between Scotlandville and Capitol, and alumni say Istrouma is needed as a neighborhood school.   They say the reason for low attendance under the State Recovery District was the fact that the Istrouma attendance zone was eliminated and students were told they had been reassigned to Broadmoor, Woodlawn and other schools.  When Belaire hired the Istrouma band director, many of the remaining Istrouma students left for Belaire.

A proposal is also circulating among Istrouma alumni to create a Petro-Chemical Career Academy at Istrouma, in addition to the neighborhood school.  The career academy would serve students from across the parish and prepare them for high paying jobs upon graduation.

Supt. Drake said he is weighing the options.  However, he did say he is committed to re-opening Istrouma in the fall of 2016.

He said about $10 million will be needed to bring it up to standards.

Drake said he will have to convince State Supt. of Education John White to release Istrouma from the Recovery School District.  So far, once the state has taken over a school, it has never been returned to the parish school system.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Drake said Istrouma has a great heritage and that it is wrong to keep it closed.  “I want the state to give it back with no strings attached, so that we can do what needs to be done there,” he said.

Drake, who grew up in Homer before moving to Baton Rouge for high school, teased the Istrouma grads in attendance.  He said Istrouma and Homer only met once on the football field, and that was in 1937 when “Homer and Gaynell Tinsley whipped Istrouma handily!”

Before the meeting, Drake talked about making Istrouma the centerpiece of public education in North Baton Rouge.

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