Decision to reopen North Iberville K-12 awaits School Board vote

Staff Report

The Iberville Parish School Board is set to vote on whether it will reinstate K-12 classes at North Iberville School more than a decade after the board opted to shut down the campus.

A move to reinstate K-12 classes on the North Iberville (formerly Shady Grove) campus is set for a vote from the Iberville Parish School Board.

The special meeting, tentatively set for Monday, would bring back the traditional format and offer STEM learning at the campus of North Iberville Elementary/High School (formerly Shady Grove) in Rosedale. It would also serve the Town of Maringouin and Village of Grosse Tete.

The move would bring the campus to a “full circle” after the Iberville Parish School Board voted in 2009 to close North Iberville. The decision – which came weeks after voters parishwide approved an increase in the school millage – drew bitter opposition from the community.

“That’s the whole reason I ran for school board,” said School Board member Pam George, who represents the northern portion of the parish.

A move in 2015 brought a STEM academy limited students in grades 6-9 who had a 3.0 grade-point average and mastery or advanced scoring on state assessment tests.

“The Starship Program” has implemented a curriculum based focused on science, engineering, technology and mathematics.

It was a step in the right direction, George said.

“During the entire process, I knew if I could get the virtual or whatever, we could at least get the doors open,” she said. “When it became a STAR ship academy, we made the decision four years ago to move sixth grade from the elementary side to the high school side and build the STEM program.

“Those sixth graders became seventh graders and then eighth graders … and here we are,” George said.

The graduations have been small – four or five students from its STEM school, she said – but with it being open, it also allowed for personnel to be on campus and to implement the needed repairs.

“So, it was a progress the whole time that got us this direction,” she said. “Opening this school is not a big shock, not a bunch of money and not a bunch of employees. Everything is in place.”

The reopening of the K-12 format would also open the opportunity for sports and other aspects of a traditional school, according to George.

Board members in 2009 approved the closure despite a petition of nearly 600 signatures. Then-Superintendent Ed Cancienne argued that North Iberville High students could get a better education at Plaquemine High School. He cited dropout rates from statewide test scores and decreased enrollment.

The move drew continued protests that led to then-Maringouin Mayor John Overton’s suit that claimed the board violated open meetings law when it solicited votes to close North Iberville High before the actual vote. It also alleged that the voters were misled over a property tax to fund improvements to the campus.

However, a district court judge in October 2009 ruled in favor of the School Board.

Thirteen years later, George considers the return of a community-based school a necessity for the north end of the parish.

“We put kids on the bus here at 5: 30 in the morning and there’s no research anywhere that says getting a child up earlier for school makes them perform better – nothing,” she said.

The format has created hardships for students who opted to commute to Plaquemine High, she said.

“My though process has always been that a lot of these kids are raised by grandparents who have no transportation, they’re very way up and age and don’t have the support system their moms and dads can give to their children,” George said. “So, what are these kids missing? If they miss the school bus, their grandparents can’t get them there. There’s no recourse for it … nobody wants to drive an hour away to drop off a child.

“And then you have the moms and dads who have children, but they parents work in Baton Rouge, so who wants to have to leave Baton Rouge or leave up here (North Iberville), go to Plaquemine, drop a child off and fight the bridge to go to Baton Rouge?” she said.

The current format of bussing students from the north end of the parish to Plaquemine High is also tough on the student athletes, George said.

“Kids playing sports are up very early in the morning and they aren’t getting home until 9 or 10 at night, and there’s no time for homework or study or downtime,” she said.  “It’s just not healthy.”

A recent public forum at the Rosedale Community Center drew low attendance due to weather conditions. All but two of George’s fellow board members attended.

“I told them I wanted them to imagine if (Rosedale) was their home, and they were either 15 minutes to Livonia High School or 12 minutes-max to Port Allen High School on Rosedale Road, or you’re 45 minutes to Plaquemine High if you don’t catch a boat or a train,” she said. “So, where do you send your child to school? I’m not sure everyone realizes that.”