North Iberville School welcomes back traditional high school classes

Staff Report

While students throughout Iberville Parish marked their return to public schools after a 2 ½-month break, a comeback after a much longer time span took place on another campus.

The start of the 2022-23 school year marked the return for students in grades 7-12 for students at North Iberville School.

Students sit in class during their first week at North Iberville High School, which resumed its traditional 7-12 curriculum alongside classes offered in the North Iberville STEM Academy.

A total of 143 students were part of the reopening for traditional high school classes, which were discontinued due in 2008 after the school could not meet required performance scores.

Those students were transferred to Plaquemine High School.

 Some rode a bus from those areas to Plaquemine High School. Other families opted to send their children to schools in Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes.

Those who opted for Plaquemine had a 25-mile bus ride each morning.

The decision to reopen included a provision that would allow students from the North Iberville area to remain at Plaquemine High if they have already completed seveth grade. 

“In the past, Iberville STEM Academy was a 6-12 school, and we have a lot of those students returning to our campus, and we do have some new faces,” said Dr. Amanda Austin, who will serve as principal of both schools. “We’re excited to have kids back from the summer, and for the reopening the traditional component of the school.”

The number of students in the conventional high school format likely will likely in the next several years.

All incoming seventh graders are required to enroll at North Iberville. Students from the North Iberville area who entered grades 8-12 this year at Plaquemine High School have been given the option of remaining at PHS or transferring to NIHS.

“For us, students and parents are a little hesitant, so we’re waiting for that shift to occur over the next couple of years," Austin said. “We’re offering athletics and other things now, so we hope to be able to bring them back to our community school. With the school board making its vote in April, it was a quick turnaround.“

Athletic programs also will return. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association requires a two-year wait period before a new or reinstituted program can compete for a district state title.

Ron LeJeune, a Plaquemine resident who has coached at Plaquemine and East Iberville, will serve as the school’s athletic director. He had finished the season for Plaquemine after Paul Distefano stepped down.

Joshua Gast will serve as head football coach. He was previously the offensive coordinator at Liberty High School. The plans call for a return of high school athletics at North Iberville, but it will be a gradual transition.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association requires 75 students for grades 9-12. The Iberville Parish School System will apply for membership during the first year reopened if enrollment exceeds 75.

A junior varsity program will likely go into place for two years before varsity athletics return. Games will be played under “Friday night lights” this season, Austin said.

Meanwhile, the school is trying to stick with its STEM roots, so the Jumpstart Pathway program fit into what was already in place, she said.

It meshes well with the demands in preparation for many career opportunities, Austin said.

“In the Jumpstart Pathways, we try to expand on that for all students,” she said. “In the world we live in now, STEM has been prevalent in some of our workforce, so we want to equip our students for whatever choice they make in a college or career. 

“You can earn certain certifications and credentials,” Austin said. “We want them to know they can get those tools with us so that when they go into the workforce, they will possess the skills that set them apart from a certain group of people."

Along with the traditional classes, students will have the option of Jumpstart classes. They will offer a curriculum of health science, arts/technology, a communication pathway, and an art/construction pathway.

“We’re trying to expand offerings and opportunities to students,” Austin said.

It’s almost a rebranding of the school, Austin said.

“We’ve been Iberville STEM Academy, but now we’re North Iberville High School with that Iberville STEM Academy component, but really this time solidifying our place,” she said. “I’ve been here for three years, and the faculty we joined are here for the long haul.”

The biggest goal is to get the traditional school rolling into the same mode which has enabled the STEM academy to operate smoothly for the past several years., according to Austin.

Students will have an alternative schedule – an A-B schedule – so it’s a matter of getting students acclimated, especially the new students to campus.

“In the health sciences pathway, NIHS offers anatomy, physiology, agriculture, Future Farmers of America … we’re really excited about that, and it’s what the kids are excited about,” Austin said. “You can take four core classes and four electives, and a wide variety.”

On the other end of the spectrum from agriculture is a class on game design, which serves the need for one of the growing sectors of the job field.

“We do have a lot of kids who are gamers, and if they want to take a class on how we’ve gone from board games to today’s games, teaching the kids on the backend about the coding for how to create and make those things empowers them, and that’s where our world is headed, so we want to give them those skills,” Austin said. “In addition, NIHS will offer a drone class. We’re talking about chemical plants and industry, where we they may need to operate a drone to take some of those aerial views, and our kids will be able to take a certification to learn some of as well.”

Iberville STEM Academy will continue to be open to students in grades 7-12 across the district, but students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and an exemplary record.

Some of the teachers on the faculty are from Iberville, East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge parishes. Others commute from west of the Atchafalaya Basin.

“We’re excited to have teachers who want to be here who see the vision of where we want to go, and who want to help us make North Iberville the greatest hidden gem in the parish,” Austin said. “We have small class sizes, innovative class sizes and dual enrollment.”

NIHS has had students the past three years who graduated with 15-18 hours of college credit, she said.

“We’re excited to let the world know this is what we do, this is how we are and it’s not just for a certain group of kids,” Austin said. "We’re offering this for all kids. When kids walk on this campus, they know they belong, they have a place, and they’ll get the best education here.”