Sitting at a cafeteria table designed for Middle School students, Shira Lang and Jatera Taylor made a small mistake after the executive committee supported a redistricting plan for a new Prairieville High that would keep their children in Galvez-area schools.
“It all worked out,” a smiling Lang said as he shared a laugh with Taylor after the vote.
After months of debate, unanimous recommendations confirmed the final outcome Tuesday night before the Donaldsonville School Board – the adoption of a revised “SP1” school plan.
It was adopted unanimously without public comment or significant board discussion.
After the vote, Board President Taft Kleinpeter told local media that the new system will free up classrooms from existing east bank schools, satisfy parents who were concerned about previous versions of the system, and prepare for growth in the coming years.
“It is a clean plan that we have come up with,” he said.
Although the final vote was taken in the school districts, he said the board is still considering whether it is possible to allow incoming fifth and eighth grade students to stay in their home schools.
Divided into three area maps for elementary, middle and high schools, the plan maintains all of Lang and Taylor’s Keystone Galvez area in the existing Galvez area and the new Prairieville High School locations.
The plan makes some changes requested by parents and school administrators in the final weeks of the year-long process, including repairs to feeder lines near L. Landry Road northwest of Gonzales and keeping students in the Lake Martin area at their existing schools.
Bringing a fourth high school to Ascension’s fast-growing east bank next fall, the $120 million school on Parker Road requires school officials to change classrooms and rebalance the student population and each school’s share of economically or socially disadvantaged children.
The new maps create a huge new location in the heart of Prairieville’s high school. That change also meant changing the line to the elementary and middle school zones because of Ascension’s feeder-based system.
Worries about kicking students out of their schools, friend groups and extracurricular activities have caused concern for parents. School officials said they tried to keep as many students as possible in their existing feeding programs.
Previously proposed shifts to elementary and middle school districts would have sent a small portion of Galves’ Keystone residents out of their Galves schools.
The updated SP1 version rolled back the proposed neighbor changes. Last week, when the board’s Strategic Planning Committee considered the final updated maps received on Tuesday, residents were all in favor of SP1.
Student population growth is driving the map changes and the need for a new school.
The three east bank schools in the district each had about 2,000 students last year, each in the top ten in the state.
Based on last year’s school numbers, the newly adopted SP1 plan will reduce the population of all three east bank schools to 1,822 students or less. St. Amant High will be the lowest at less than 1,700 students.
In an indication of how many students could be displaced next fall when Prairieville High is expected to open, estimates show the school would have had nearly 1,800 students if it had opened last year under the new maps. Construction is not expected to be completed until the summer, officials said.
The changes will also reduce each East Bank school’s share of economically disadvantaged students from 15% to 20%. East Ascension will see the largest drop, from about 66% of the student body to about 53%.
The new Prairieville High will have 35% of its students in that category, estimates show.
The map change will not affect Donaldsonville High School on the west bank. The school has about a fifth of the largest student population or less than any existing school in the east bank, and 92% of the students are economically disadvantaged.
School officials have not publicly compiled statistics on how the changes will affect school structure and say they don’t have any.
Jeff Parent, director of planning and construction, said school officials did not consider school segregation in the rezoning and were advised by their demographic consultant, Mike Hefner, not to do so because of legal issues.
Dutchtown and St. Amant highs are mostly White schools; East Ascension and Donaldsonville high schools are majority minority schools, with mostly Black students.
As a reason for the restriction, school officials looked at the quota of socially and economically disadvantaged students. The measure includes various factors, such as the number of students on free and reduced lunch, though not race or ethnicity.
The ethnic composition of the parents who have lobbied for rezoning in public meetings has varied.
These school statistics, however, may be subject to some change before school starts in 2024.
By the time Prairieville High opens, ratings will be based on 2-year-old data. Also, to address early concerns about the new lines, School Board members previously decided that students who will be sophomores or higher next fall can stay at their existing high schools.
Each future Prairieville High student who chooses that option, however, will reduce the number of new school students and increase the total number of existing schools.
School officials said they want to have those decisions for students by the end of 2023. Final student numbers will drive hiring decisions this spring for the new high school, school officials said.
“The high school student selection timeline will be finalized once the board approves the final placements,” said Jackie Tisdell, a school spokeswoman.