Sunday, May 4, 2014

The REAL Future of Bossier High School

Bossier Press Tribune reporter Hal Braswell needs an education.  I don’t mean a formal education – he received his formal education in Illinois and in Mississippi.  Mr. Braswell, who lives in Minden and has worked for the Bossier Press Tribune since 2007, needs to come to Bossier High School and see what we do every day. 

Mr. Braswell published an article in the Bossier Press that has ignited a firestorm on Facebook this weekend.  His article, “The Future of Bossier High,” reports on an upcoming demographic report about projected enrollment numbers for Bossier High School.

I’d link to the article, but as of this writing, the Bossier Tribune’s site is still down – it crashed sometime yesterday. Karma?

The article says:
“A demographer’s report being finalized for the Bossier Parish School Board will project student enrollment from 2014 to 2014 and could provide a glimpse into the future.”
Mr. Braswell goes on to report what we all know:  Bossier City is growing outward, north, south, and east.  New schools have been approved and built in those areas; Legacy and Parkway are both shiny, new schools that help accommodate those populations.  Mr. Braswell also reports that Bossier Parish’s two largest high schools, Airline and Parkway, are both scheduled for big money enhancements that the voters approved in 2012:
“Airline High School, already the largest in Bossier Parish, is scheduled for a $22.65 million enhancement that will bump its capacity to 2,000 students. Parkway High School, only a few years removed from locating to an entirely new campus in south Bossier, is slated for a 12-classroom addition in Phase Two of the $210 million bond issue approved by voters in April 2012.”
This is all true and I have no objection with what Mr. Braswell reported up to this point.  It is in the next paragraph of his article that things start to get fuzzy: 
“At a time that millions of dollars are earmarked for expansion and other improvements at Airline High School and Parkway High School, figures provided by the school district show Bossier High School is sitting half empty.”
Mr. Braswell reports that the school has the capacity for 1,361 students.  Now, let’s pause there for a moment.  The school might have been built with that many classrooms in 1938 (the date the current campus was designed), but today some of those classrooms have been turned into computer labs to accommodate modern day
technology requirements and instruction.  We have at least four wired computer labs in the two main buildings as well as several mobile laptop labs, and the library has two computer labs.  There is also a mini-lab in the counselor's office area.  In all, we have about ten computer labs on campus.

Note also that last summer Bossier High received a major electrical upgrade from bond money approved by voters.  The school also has a $150,000 auditorium upgrade coming.  The auditorium at Bossier High is used for many parish functions including the annual parish musical, Lions Club functions, Bossier Council on Aging functions, and parish wide food service training annually to name a few.

Mr. Braswell’s statement that “Bossier High School is sitting half empty” is very misleading.  Tell that Geometry teacher with thirty-three kids in her classroom that her class is “half-empty” and see what happens.  There are no empty classrooms in Bossier High School, and I invite Mr. Braswell to come see what goes on in those classrooms.  I also invite any alumni, especially those on Facebook who are suggesting we lock the doors in 2017 and have a huge alumni party, (imagine!) to come see what we do at Bossier High School every single day.  Come embrace and support our hard work rather than give up on us.

I wonder if Mr. Braswell was at the Senior Awards Assembly last week.  Bossier High School students received thousands of dollars in scholarships to schools all over the country.  We also recognized students who are planning to go into the military after graduation.  The Bossier High School Alumni Association, in fact, gave several very generous scholarships at that assembly.  Our students are achieving great things which should be supported and celebrated.

We just completed Senior Project last week; our seniors (both semesters) have done incredible work with their projects and achieved things they never thought they could.  And I don’t mean just the physical project that each student did; many of these kids did these projects under incredible hardships that I can’t even begin to share. 

Part of Mr. Braswell’s thesis is that Bossier High School’s population is an inner-city, declining, poverty ridden population.  That is demographically true but it doesn’t take into account the personal aspect of our population.  These kids aren’t numbers.  They’re people.  They’re students, and they’re kids with heart, drive and pride.

Some suggest that we just blend these kids into Parkway (already with a population of about 1,200) and Airline (population about 1,700).  One of the comments I saw this weekend in the discussion about closing Bossier High School is that it’s a numbers and demographics issue, not an emotional one.  Well of course it’s an emotional issue.  I’m here to tell you that as a teacher at Bossier High School since 2001, I have personally seen kids who have had that “grass is greener” mentality; they’ll transfer to one of the bigger schools and then come right back.  They get swallowed up at those big schools.  It should also be noted that when the kids at Barksdale were given permission to leave Bossier High and attend another school in the parish if they wanted, almost all of them chose to remain at Bossier.  We continue to have a large population of Barksdale kids.

Many of our neighborhood students come from homes where they receive very little academic support.  In that respect, if we have “under capacity” classrooms, what that means is that in an English class of 25 students, many of whom need one on one assistance, it is possible to mentor and help those kids.  

Our school has a population that is 72% free/reduced lunch.  (Airline is 38% and Parkway 32%).  Who picks up that slack for these kids and functions as a family or mentor?  The teachers and administrators at Bossier High do; we love and mentor our students on a scale that other schools can’t fathom.  I have known faculty members that will pick kids up and take them to church if they want to go.  When a student is stressing out and crying because she doesn’t have $1.00 to buy page protectors for her senior project portfolio who do you think reached into her pocket and helped her?  When a student is sleeping through class because he’s had to work at night to keep the electricity on at the house (because both parents have left), who helps that student?  I could go on and on.

What I’m telling you is that there are great things that go on at Bossier High School; it is so much more than demographic numbers and projections.  You might say that education is a business and best use of taxpayer dollars must be adhered to, and that may be true.  But our mission statement at Bossier High School says it best: 
“The mission of Bossier High School, in partnership with parents and community, is to foster the development of an environment that will facilitate learning for all students, promote self-esteem and respect for others, and launch learners on a quest for high standards, all of which will lead them to be self-sufficient adults.”

It’s that part about “self-sufficient adults” that you taxpayers that want to close the doors need to pay attention to. 

One last note as we wait for the demographer’s report.  Rusheon Middle School, the main feeder for Bossier High, has its largest eighth grade class in recent years, leaving in May.  The majority of those kids will come to Bossier High School which will certainly boost enrollment there.  The numbers at Rusheon are big in the seventh grade as well which should also predict a large ninth grade population for Bossier in the next year.  In addition, there will be a big news conference this week where great news for Bossier High will be announced.  Watch for it. 

Mr. Braswell seems to have written our obituary at Bossier High and paid the undertaker, but it’s not over at 777 Bearkat Drive.  Not even close.  The best is yet to come!  Come embrace and celebrate what we are doing rather than giving up on us.  Locking the doors in 2017?  Are you KIDDING?!


Sandra Jarrell said...

Thank you for sharing what is going on at BHS. I am an alumni and even was able to complete my math methods requirement there about five years ago. I have always dreamed of one day returning there as a math teacher and one day I will. Thank you for what you do for our students. Keep up the great work and thank you again for letting people know the truth.

desertbluff said...

Can't say how much I appreciate all your words to address those assertions and conclusions of the Tribune reporter. I graduated from Bossier in 1964 and am a retired educator who knows the real story of how schools provide so much needed support for students. I loved your comment about students not being numbers. Thank you for standing up for our school.

Colene Pipes said...

I googled "ideal high school size research" and found many informative articles describing the research on benefits and costs associated with schools of 600-900 students; at schools with over 1500 students, it's perilously easy for students to slip through the cracks. I love the BHS sense of community and family.

Elizabeth Persons said...

I am so glad to read this article about our beloved Bossier High School. I graduated in 1963, so I suppose to some, I am too old to know what is good for education these days. When I read that someone wanted to plan a BIG celebration and close BHS in 2017, my first thought was "Oh, no!" BHS is very near and dear to a lot of us, and to close it would be a huge disservice to many high school students attending now. I hope this train of thought stops here and now. This dear old school is still filling a huge need in the Bossier community.

Andy said...

Excellent post, Pat. Even though I never taught in a classroom, I've been around them enough to know that really good teachers give a damn. They reach in to their pockets to help. They suffer the pains, and rejoice in the victories of their students.

BHS has ALWAYS been that kind of a place. I really don't know what spirit got set down on that patch of ground in the late 40's/early 50s when it was built, but the good vibes still vibe.

My Daddy started there as a Frosh (could have been 8th-12th when it opened...not sure) in the first year it opened (He was a '53 grad). He had some really cool stories about educators coming from all over the world to see it. I'm fuzzy on it, but the architecture was revolutionary for a school at the slide up and down windows...wide hallways...tile bathrooms (like I say, I'm fuzzy on it, but my Daddy don't lie...and if he told me that educators came from all over the world to look at it...well...they did!) ;)

Great memories for 3 generations of us now. Maybe it'll be 4. Once can hope!

Anonymous said...

As an ex-student from BHS the school is terrible imo. Surprisingly though a lot of my teachers were wonderful people. There were some teachers who were absolute bullies though. Also, PLEASE DON'T LET THE COACHES TEACH. Both of the male coaches I had were the worst teachers I have EVER seen/experienced. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how someone who has spent most of their blogging on political issues demonizing the less fortunate in favor of Tea Party rantings, shows a soul in this post. Maybe there is hope for you after all to see that all people matter, including those that aren't in your daily circle, not profits.

Chuckles said...

I am a south bossier parent and I fight tooth and nail for my sons to NOT attend parkway high. At parkway the bullying that goes ignores is disgusting and my sons will go to Bossier High: where education matters more than what car mommy and daddy bought you or what shoes you wear. If your child is the victim of relentless bullying I encourage you to send them to Bossier high. Students are part of a family and not a damn number!

Anonymous said...

Its so easy to get caught up in all the hype of "the best school" for this reason or that reason. Its also easy to want to forget the unfortunate circumstances from which some of us come. I have 2 sons myself now and although I am a Bossier High graduate, just because I know that I want much better for them than I had, I moved where I live now so that they are able to attend Airline. I hope that although they do not have the worries I had in my school years, that they will not ever snub their nose up to any other child that had the struggles I had, I also just want them to have better opportunities. The mentioning of all the academic achievements the student graduating form Bossier High made my eyes water. Truth is, it is so much easier for a child who has every opportunity to succeed, to actually succeed. Its the kids who have to fight for everything, well, they make me admire them. I want to give credit to both educators who support these kids, and also the kids who fight everyday of their lives to be the best that they can be under the circumstances. You are winners and will always be winners, because you know not only how to fight, but also the battles in which you should fight. God bless all those helping and enduring. You are not and will never be alone!