John L. Ory expansion under consideration, School District leaders say

Published 8:27 am Wednesday, August 24, 2016

LAPLACE — School District leaders are considering expansion at John L. Ory Communication Arts Magnet School, which could nearly double the school’s student count in ten years.

Sixth grade students return from P.E. Monday morning at John L. Ory, where St. John Public School administrators are considering expanding student openings.

Sixth grade students return from P.E. Monday morning at John L. Ory, where St. John Public School administrators are considering expanding student openings.

St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools Superintendent Kevin George said a waiting list and lottery system determine enrollment at the LaPlace school, which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

“One of our biggest goals is to attract more people to this parish and to our schools,” George said. “Although we are working to be at a point where everyone is clamoring to get into any one of our schools, we do know we have a school that there is a waiting list to get in.”

The expansion idea was discussed during the School Board’s summer retreat and reviewed at this month’s Land and Facilities Committee meeting.

School District administrators hope to present an initial expansion proposal to School Board members by mid-October, at which time further direction and specific marching orders could be given.

One suggestion entails increasing the student population by two classes and 50 students a year, starting at kindergarten and adding the 50-student bump each year beginning with the 2017-18 academic calendar.

The school’s current count is estimated at 456 students.

School leaders could accommodate the increase by adding modular buildings to campus, which George said each holds two classrooms and 50 students.

Ory success

St. John Public Schools improved its overall letter grade to a B in the latest Louisiana Department of Education accountability rankings, scoring an 85.2 as its 2015 District Performance Score.

It is an improvement over the previous year’s score of 83.1, a C.

The district features two A-rated schools: West St. John High School and John L. Ory.

Ory Magnet, which has maintained its A-rating for four consecutive years. District leaders attribute much of the school’s success to the hard work of students and faculty, as well as the dedicated support of parents.

“For far too long we’ve been saying, ‘let’s share what’s going on at John L. Ory,” School Board Member Russell Jack said. “We did and we didn’t do it. The more kids there (attending John L. Ory,) the more bang for our buck. I’m thinking let’s try it. Start off small with kindergarten and see where it goes.”

School Board Member Patrick Sanders said there are pros and cons to school expansion but favored greater study of the idea before making a final call.

“The only thing I am going to ask is make (a proposal) as detailed as possible,” he said.


School Board Member Russ Wise raised several concerns, one specifically about what he perceives as the location’s restricted space.

“The only way in and the only way out is West Fifth Street,” he said. “If there should be an accident, a fire, a derailment behind it, that road would be instantly clogged with parents trying to come and save their kids. That would already be a big enough problem with the current population. Having more people only complicates the problem.”

Wise said the District would be smart to work harder to improve other schools rather than focusing too much attention on Ory.

“The way it is now, you don’t mess with success,” he said. “It is currently, undoubtedly, the best school in the parish. Any change to that — expansion, what have you — might upset that balance.”

George stressed there is plenty of land available on the John L. Ory footprint for expansion through current space or nearby land purchase. He said the District’s greatest obstacle is efficiently accessing the available land.

He also stressed that increased parent participation remains a District focus this year at John L. Ory and all other District schools.

Wise said when students sign up at John L. Ory; parents also sign a participation agreement.

“If we could change the mindset (in favor of parent participation) in other schools like has been done very successfully across the river, then we don’t need to expand John L. Ory,” Wise said. “We’ve got to do something to educate our parents to make them understand how important they are in the mix.”