Istrouma High School

North Baton Rouge is getting a very special gift for the 100th anniversary of Istrouma High: a new school! Istrouma High School, founded in 1917 and built at its current location in 1951, was closed in 2014 due to low performance but is reopening its doors this month. The community high school gets a new look with a $24.1 million renovation and an entirely new faculty and administration. 

This new start begins with a principal who is no stranger to the campus. Reginald Douglas taught at Istrouma for five years as his first teaching job in the early 2000s and is enthusiastic about his return. “This is such a blessing to come back,” Douglas shares. He has grand plans for the school and has a faculty prepared to make them into a reality. “We are blessed to have teachers that have been working all summer. They are ready to get in and start getting their classrooms ready.” He is confident their team will work in unity for great academic success. 

Istrouma High School sits at the corner of Winbourne and 38th Street and was once the hub of the neighborhood. So much so that when the state closed the school, alumni and residents started a petition immediately to resurrect it. The Istrouma Advisory Council and many others campaigned tirelessly to reinstate the community institution, and their hard work is coming to fruition. The massive campus is getting an impressive facelift that will transform the entire block. The neighborhood is anticipating new life with the return of the high school. 

Since the closure in 2014, students from the 70805 zip code have been leaving their communities to be bused across town to go to school, which has caused two significant problems. First, kids have to get up extremely early, and because they have to catch the bus after school, they cannot participate in after-school activities. “Many kids couldn’t really have a vested interest in the schools that they went to. The kids were not connected to something meaningful,” Douglas says. The second problem is the community doesn’t have something to be connected to. He explains, “When you shut down a school like Istrouma that’s in the middle of the community, it takes an institution out of the community that everyone can be a part of, which affects not only teens and their families but also the alumni from the past.” Reopening the school “gives kids the ability to go to school in their neighborhood, play sports, be in the band, participate in extracurricular activities, and do the things that they love,” Douglas emphasizes. The high school has the potential to connect everyone in the area, the value of which cannot be overstated. 

The new Istrouma High will be a center for academic excellence that prepares students for future success. Douglas elaborates, “We are going to produce school scores that will make everyone in this area proud. When the students graduate from Istrouma, every kid will be able to do two things, and it’s up to them what they choose. We are going to prepare all of our kids to go to college, and they will be able to go to any university. On the other hand, if students want to graduate and work in the petrochemical or construction industry in this area, we are preparing them to do that also.” 

By offering AP courses to the ninth and tenth graders, Istrouma will be setting expectations for them early. The faculty will begin preparing them for college as soon as they step on campus. When it comes to the technical track, Istrouma is partnering with Baton Rouge Community College which will offer opportunities to the students and work alongside faculty to blend curriculums. The school will also utilize a process technology bay and a residential skills bay for plumbing, woodworking, cabinet making, and electrical work training. “Our kids will leave us with both a college track and a technical track. It takes a lot of planning and preparation to do that,” Douglas says. 

In addition to the academic opportunities, incoming Istrouma High students can look forward to various extracurricular activities as well. The new high school will offer choir, band, art, and other clubs sponsored by teachers. Sports will also be a major component of student life. Athletes will be able to choose from girls and boys track, girls and boys basketball, volleyball, softball, baseball, football, and wrestling. 

Istrouma High is maintaining most of the historical integrity of their buildings, but adding 21st century improvements. Technology updates abound across the campus including multiple computer labs for digital media classes where students will create movies, videos, and even the morning news. Each student will have a laptop as part of the one-to-one program, and every classroom is outfitted with smartboards. 

Celebrating the history of Istrouma High while connecting to the community will be focal points of the reopened school. One unique feature that will accomplish this is the community center sponsored by the Istrouma Advisory Council and alumni. The community center will include a computer lab open to parents and the community. Each month, Istrouma will offer classes to parents with topics such as bullying, self-defense, exercise, and crafts. One way Istrouma will be connecting to its history will be through the renaming of the football field and stadium. Douglas shares, “We will name it after Mr. Elisha ‘Tack’ Jackson, a significant former principal who also gave me my first job in education. You will be able to drive down Winbourne and see a beautiful sign that will change the landscape of the area. The track around the football field will be open to the community for people to walk and run.” Combining history with community once again, Istrouma will host a banquet during which they will hang banners in the gymnasium to honor past championship teams. 

Principal Douglas believes Istrouma’s future is bright. “Five years from now when you walk onto the Istrouma High School campus, you will see kids talking about their ACT scores, concerned about what colleges they’re going to, and what their careers are going to be. The school will offer whatever children want to do, whether that’s a fishing team or a bowling team, whatever they need to reach their self-actualization. College recruiters will be here because our athletes will have the right GPAs and success in their sports. The school will have a lot of things going on for parents and the community. Our students will be working with elementary and middle school children as mentors. They will be helping clean and rebuild homes in the area. They are going to be academically successful and will operate in a spirit of excellence.”

To accomplish these lofty goals, the Istrouma High faculty and administration will have to work hard, but that’s a task they are committed to fulfilling. “The main thing that I want everyone to know is we are servicing the students and parents of the 70805 zip code, and we are going to be successful with these kids. Great things have always come out of this area, and we still have a community that is full of pride for one another.” ■

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01 Aug 2017

By Joy Holden

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