A new arts-focused conservatory school that many are calling “the Juilliard of Baton Rouge” may be going to a vacant campus on Goodwood Boulevard, according to The Advocate. The proposed new school will focus on preparing local area teenagers for career paths in the performance and visual arts, including music, dance, theatre, and more.
The proposal of this new conservatory school is part of East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s plan to add more attractive academic opportunities to the parish in an effort to counteract the declining enrollment numbers from the past few years.
If implemented correctly, this arts-focused public charter school could very well attract new families to the district. In addition to these new families, many students begin their public educational career in various elementary arts programs but are left with fewer and fewer options as they get older; this is seen in the Baton Rouge area, as there is no currently no high school dedicated to the visual and performing arts.
Recently, Superintendent Narcisse had organized a large delegation, which included six EBR School Board members, to visit several education art schools in Miami. Coming away from the trip, many board members were able to see the benefits of students attending high schools like the New World School of the Arts, a downtown Miami arts high school of about 500 students.
School Board member Mike Gaudet, who was impressed by the survey, said, “after what I saw at Miami-Dade, it makes me jealous that we haven’t had this before. It’s just the kind of thing that we just need to get on the boat and get it going and make it happen. Our students deserve this.”
Superintendent Narcisse has previously worked in school districts with conservatory schools, and he has been pushing the idea that Baton Rouge needs its own school dedicated to a particular focus ever since he took over as superintendent in January. He officially proposed the idea in July, but after it was met with initial resistance from the board, he set is aside to better prepare its introduction.
At the November 18th East Baton Rouge Parish School Board meeting, the board voted to reopen Broadmoor Middle School, a facility that has been closed and vacant since 2019, to be recreated as a conservatory school for sixth through twelfth graders. The newly approved magnet school is scheduled to open in fall 2023 with the school also serving as the home to summer camps and after-school art classes that will be accessible to students across the district.
Executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Renee Chatelain had said that this new school will serve as a catalyst for improving arts education in the larger surrounding community. Chatelain has already begun talking to Baton Rouge artists who have left the city to return and teach at the new school at least for short stints. She commented saying, “I’m asking them, ‘Please come back and be adjuncts.”
It stands to reason that charter schools championed by the school district can be a draw for families at their educational options. In fact, preliminary enrollment numbers for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools have increased by approximately 800 students since last school year with nearly all of that growth being attributed to students attending district-sponsored charter schools. On the other end of the spectrum, enrollment is down at non-charter schools. When compared with last year’s data, non-charter school enrollment has decreased by approximately 800 students and a total of 2,200 students from two years ago.
Chair-elect of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge Ralph Bender said of the opportunity, “investment in an arts conservatory will lead to a sizable return on investment due to retention of talent, recruitment of master teachers and professional artists. If you look at great artists who left Baton Rouge to go elsewhere and make their mark, perhaps they would be here if there were more opportunities like this. It will elevate the artists and master artists who live in Baton Rouge but whose work could be expanded.”
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