Hemelt: ESJH under spotlight with magnet effort

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 10, 2018

“If you pull quality kids out of East St. John High School, which is really going down, what kind of impact is this going to have overall?”

Veteran education administrator and St. John the Baptist Parish School Board Member Gerald Keller raised that question this week during an executive committee meeting, bringing forth of a concern shared by many inside and outside our parish’s public school system.

East St. John High faces an uneasy future in the wake of St. John Public Schools’ current effort to launch a high school magnet program for 2018-19.

School Board members are scheduled to vote Thursday on whether or not to proceed with the effort, which would start in August.

If approved, students accepted to the selective-admissions program would spend their entire school day at a location separate from East St. John High or West St. John High, immersed in an advanced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) environment.

It is important to note that this is a high school magnet program and NOT a new high school. Students who attend the magnet program would still be considered students of either East St. John or West St. John high schools, with their grades and scores transferred to those schools’ state report cards.

Magnet program students would also be eligible to play sports and join clubs associated with the high school of their designation, despite not spending school days on those campuses.

This gets us back to perception, and the concern by many, including some on the School Board, that the magnet effort could take away the best and brightest from the East St. John High campus, further weakening a school with a poor public perception.

ESJH, which serves the largest school population in St. John Parish, is currently rated a C school by the Louisiana Department of Education.

School Board Member Patrick Sanders told administrators they would have to convince him of the magnet program’s benefit because he began this week against the idea.

“That means we’re failing at our present high schools,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to have this conversation about a top notch quality high school. We should already be offering it. When we go out to deliver that message, we can’t use that statement.”

Following a detailed and thorough presentation on the program, he ultimately voted in favor of the motion during a committee meeting, setting the stage for a full School Board vote on Thursday.

He won’t be the last person that needs convincing.

“I can see that a whole lot of thought process went into it from the administration,” Sanders said. “Based on the fact that the charter school is coming, if we don’t do anything, we lose. It is worth it to try. It is not a guarantee. It’s worth a try to attract and offer some more programs to the students we have.”

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.