St. John Public School District eyes new magnet high school opening by August

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, January 31, 2018

RESERVE — St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools is looking to open a magnet high school for August.

Still in the planning stages with nothing yet finalized, the school would serve at least ninth grade and focus on STEM education.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and represents the future of high-level career employment, according to School Board Member Russ Wise.

The veteran education representative said the School District is not currently offering high school students focused training in engineering or high-tech education.

“I think if we concentrate on computers, computer coding and computer engineering, we would be offering something that isn’t available now and something that could really make a difference in the future of our kids,” Wise said.

Superintendent Kevin George introduced the magnet high school initiative to the School Board during the Board’s mid-January retreat. He was given the go-ahead to report back to Board members at future meetings with updates on potential opening details for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Still to be decided is if the school would open as a ninth grade-only campus and expand grade levels in subsequent years or begin serving ninth-through-12th grades in year one.

A location has also not been finalized, but the early consensus would have the school launch on the old Leon Godchaux High School campus and possibly seek a more permanent home in years to come. The Godchaux campus, located on River Road in Reserve, is currently serving as the emergency campus for East St. John Preparatory Academy.

School officials said East St. John Preparatory would return to its campus on Airline Highway for the 2018-19 school year.

According to George, the magnet initiative would require students seeking admission to score mastery on the LEAP test in either science or math, hold a cumulative GPA of at least a 3.0 in science or math, or be designated as a gifted student.

George stressed all plans are in the discussion phase.

“We want to give families another option,” George said. “We want to create a Magnet Program. We call John L. Ory a magnet school, but it is really not because there are no qualifications to get into the school. You just have to fill out the application and there is a lottery system.

“We want to give parents another option to say ‘I want my kids surrounded by other like-minded kids that want to excel in the math and science field.’ We really feel like we owe it to this community to give them other options.”

School Board Member Nia Mitchell said a magnet high school would provide more academic opportunities for students and allow the School District to build feeder programs through its middle schools.

She figures the District’s best option would be to start as a ninth grade-only campus for 2018-19.

School Board President Ali Burl III said as technology improves, education should move toward more student STEM options.

“The kids coming from John L. Ory, some of them may not go to the (local public) high schools,” Burl said. “They are looking for something more challenging. I think if we create a high school where we are offering a more rigorous curriculum, that would keep more students in the parish. In the long run it would help families that are paying for private school when they can get a good, quality education for free.”