Objection delays approval of Gramercy magnet program

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 17, 2011

By David Vitrano


LUTCHER – A proposal to begin a magnet program at Gramercy Elementary School hit a snag Tuesday as St. James Parish School Board member Patricia Schnexnayder angrily opposed what she saw as an unfair bias against west bank students regarding the application process.

During the presentation by GES Principal Kay Dornier and Anne Detillier, they explained the rationale behind starting a magnet program at the school.

“They felt something that would attract people back to public schools would be something different,” said Dornier.

She explained that the school’s student population is veering dangerously close to being a single-race school, and the Justice Department has asked the district to remedy the problem.

GES currently has 412 students, but only 84 are non-black.

The plan is to create an eight grade-level program with each class containing 10 black students and 10 non-black students. Besides regular academic classes, the program would offer classes in the visual and performing arts, the pair explained.

The sticking point with Schexnayder, however, was the application process, which would give primary consideration to those students living within the Gramercy Elementary attendance zone.

“Include the west bank,” said Schexnayder. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it fair. This is wrong.”

Superintendent Alonzo Luce explained that the primary goal of creating the program is to bring the school’s student population within desegregation guidelines set by the Justice Department.

“The purpose of this is not to take care of the east bank or take care of the west bank,” he said. “What we’re attempting to do is make the school more diverse.”

Luce said there are a few different solutions to the desegregation problem including altering attendance zones and busing but said creating magnet programs is often considered the best. Luce was previously the magnet coordinator for East Baton Rouge Parish and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject.

Still, he said the district would only implement the program with the support of the school board.

“I’m open and would love some input,” he said.

Despite his explanation, Schexnayder remained unmoved.

“We are losing the lower achievers,” she said.

Although the magnet program was up for approval Tuesday, because of the objection from Schexnayder, it was decided the board would further discuss the matter at its upcoming retreat.

In other action Tuesday, the school board approved the addition of an early dismissal day on Jan. 17 to accommodate professional training for the district’s educators.

Also, the board agreed to rescind a motion that would have set in action the demolition of the stadium at St. James High School. Luce and School Board President Charles Nailor are currently negotiating with land owners to acquire property near the intersection of Louisiana highways 20 and 3127 although nothing is yet set in stone.

“We’re in the process,” said Luce. “We just got appraisals today.”

The school board also approved the advertisement of bids for the sale of the now-disused Vacherie Primary School.

Finally, the school board, led by Kenneth Foret, approved a resolution honoring the Lutcher High School football team, which made it to the semi-finals this year.

Said coach Tim Detillier, “I know what some of you deal with from month to month, but you’ve always taken time to recognize student achievement. I sincerely appreciate it.”