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Magnet, Gifted and Talented Programs at the Core of St. George Fight

The latest applications for annexation into Baton Rouge by LSU and L’Auberge casino could cut further into the tax base for the proposed city of St. George and undermine the incorporation petition.

But supporters of the breakaway aren’t giving up.

They still want their new city, and even more so, a new school district.

Meanwhile, it’s recruitment season for the parish school district and it’s been holding open houses this week for its magnet and gifted and talented programs.

Shannon Plauche is a mother of four, and a happy customer of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System.

“I have one at Baton Rouge High, one at Westdale Middle, one at BR FLAIM, and one at Louisiana Key Academy, it’s a charter school.”  

For elementary school, all three of Plauche’s boys have attended BR FLAIM, a foreign language immersion magnet with an A-rating. Her oldest is now a sophomore at Baton Rouge Magnet High.

“As a freshman he took Spanish 3. He already had his high school credits for Spanish 1 and 2. So I definitely feel like that it prepared them for Baton Rouge High," Plauche says. "And then Baton Rouge High is just so unbelievably this high standard, once he gets to college he’s gonna be like, ‘I got this.’”

With more than 7,000 applications last year for slots at EBR’s magnet schools, some kids end up on a waiting list. Magnet Program Director Theresa Porter invites their parents to check out other schools in the district.

“I offer the possibility of perhaps a gifted site. And forebearing that, I ask them, what’s your home school?," Porter says.

Students have to test into the gifted and talented programs — they’re part of what the district is required by law to provide to students with exceptional abilities. But the reduced class sizes and specialized instruction for those students have a spillover effect.

The district overall is predominantly black — roughly 80 percent of the student population. Only about 11 percent of students in the district are white. But of those students, about 80 percent are at a school with a magnet or gifted and talented program.

“That’s the draw,” Porter says.

The leaders of the St. George incorporation effort say they’ve got the 17,746 signatures they need, but they’re continuing to collect more as insurance. They’re aiming for 20,000 signatures and hope to put the issue on an April ballot.

Back in June, they were pushing toward a July deadline. And Lorraine Beaman was manning the signing tent at the corner of Old Jefferson Highway and Highland Road.

“Owning a school system, owning a city — people are excited, like they finally have a say-so in their lives.”

Beaman and her family haven’t always lived on the unincorporated southeast side of the parish.

When the oldest of her four kids was entering middle school, they were zoned for Kenilworth in southwest Baton Rouge.

“My husband went and checked it out. He said, there were 17 kids in the sixth grade lined up for fighting," Beaman remembers. "I was like, my goodness, what kind of school are we going to get in to?”

Beaman says private school was too expensive. And the commute to work would have been too costly if they moved to Ascension or Livingston Parish.

“So we moved out here to Shenandoah.”

But the frustration has crept back in. Beaman’s youngest son, who has special needs, should be in his senior year at the local high school, Woodlawn, but he’s a credit and a half short. She attributes the setback to the school monkeying with his educational plan in prior years.

One of her older sons started at Baton Rouge Magnet High, but, as she puts it, he majored in socializing and didn’t maintain the 2.5 GPA he needed to stay there.

“My kids are average, you know. I don’t have ‘gifted’.”

It seems to Beaman that when the district created the magnet system it didn’t think about the kids who might be left behind.

“Baton Rouge High is just a name, but it’s the only answer we have right now to the best school in the system. But it needs to be every school’s a star in the system,” she says.

She’s betting a new city of St. George can build its own school system full of stars.

As director Theresa Porter explains, the magnet programs were a big part of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System’s answer to a federal lawsuit over school segregation filed back in 1956. It wasn’t until 2003 that a settlement was reached.

“Magnet programs essentially was really set up to diversify the school system.”

Shannon Plauche has been actively fighting the St. George breakaway. She’s worried about what will happen to magnet programs like BR FLAIM should the new city be incorporated and some 6,200 students get cut out of the parish district, as opponents of the move have estimated.

“BR FLAIM is a small school. Take out a good majority of those children and they’re probably going to cut the program, even though it’s an A school, because we can’t replace those children because you have to be bilingual.”

But Porter says not to worry. The foreign language immersion program is so popular the district actually opened a second campus in August. And Porter says even if some current students are cut out by the incorporation of St. George, the magnet programs are safe.

“We can recruit if need be, or we can use our waiting pool to fill that void. So because of the interest we have in the program, I really don’t see that as too much of a problem right now.”

But district officials are concerned that the breakaway could again draw attention from federal officials responsible for enforcing laws against school segregation.

Baker and Zachary were the first to split off in 2003. When Central broke away four years later the proportion of white students left in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System dropped from 16 to 12 percent — just above the current 11 percent.

If St. George is incorporated, the district could lose another chunk of white students.

“We have what’s left, for a lack of a better way of saying it. And what we try to do in order to diversify is to bring in those students who have left the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. Magnet programs and gifted and talented are the primary programs to do that.”

So, Saturday, the district filled Cortana mall, from end to end, with displays boasting about the magnet programs and gifted and talented sites. Students from Dufrocq Elementary performed a happy song about their school for the crowd. 

Faviola Evans was there looking at the options with her husband and some friends. Her daughter hanging off her husband’s arm, is entering kindergarten next year. Their number one choice for her is BR FLAIM

“In case our first choice didn’t work out, we were like, I guess we could do public schools in Ascension Parish, which have “a better reputation,” Evans says. 

Or maybe, St. George.