Istrouma community vents anger at RSD meeting over school closure

Photo provided by staff

POSTED: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 6:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 6:04am

The Istrouma High School community is not willing to get used to the fact that its school is about to disappear.

Superintendent Patrick Dobard of the Recovery School District met with parents and alumni Monday night to talk up the school Istrouma students can go to next year. Instead, they took the opportunity to vent their anger.

"I am the fifth person out of my family to graduate from Istrouma High School," one woman told Dobard, "so I know this school way better than you know this school!"

Last month, the Recovery School District announced its plan to close Istrouma High at the end of the year. Since then, there has been a lot of frustration that a landmark of the north Baton Rouge community will disappear.

Istrouma students are guaranteed spots at Capitol High School for the 2014-15 school year. Friendship Schools, a charter operator based in Washington DC, will operate Capitol. Two of its executives spoke at the meeting about their company and the way they plan to run Capitol. Some members of the crowd said they liked what they heard, but were not trusting.

"How many schools has RSD turned around in Baton Rouge?" one man asked.

Istrouma has received failing performance scores from the state for several years. While many people blamed the RSD for not following through on promises to turn those numbers around, Dobard placed the blame on East Baton Rouge Parish School System for allowing Istrouma to fall into this position and not addressing the problem sooner.

"That's educational malpractice! If it was medicine, we'd revoke the licenses of those individuals who had the privilege of educating that child," he said.

"I'm just listening at you talking about the public schools," one woman replied, "and all you're doing is dividing us as a people. What my thing is, RSD and public schools should be hand in hand."

Dobard also questioned why community members had not been angry that whole time, and waited until the school was about to close to get involved.

"We don't want to have to be in business," he explained of the RSD. "If we're not in business, that means that schools are what? Doing very well.

"But you, and us as a community, have to let school districts know, when a school is AUS-1 (Academically Unacceptable Status), (that is) unacceptable. If it goes to AUS-2, we (should be) out there banging on the door every day, 'change it.'"

RSD plans to reopen Istrouma High School in time for the 2015-16 school year, as a charter school. Dobard and the Friendship executives said they would offer athletics and extracurricular activities, but several people said they were worried that the legacy they left, in the classroom, on the field, and in the community would vanish.

"Do we really want a true school, or do we want something else that don't look like what we had before?" Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle asked rhetorically. "And what this community wants is something what they had before."

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