Poverty schools receive high performance distinction

By Tyana Williams - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana Department of Education released a list of 35 schools that are highly successful, despite having high poverty rates. Three schools in Baton Rouge and another in Livingston Parish made the list. Forest Heights Academy, Glasgow Middle, McKinley Middle Magnet and Springfield Elementary were recognized for their performances.

According to one educator, regardless of where they come from, every child is on an equal playing field. Herman Brister is the principal at McKinley Middle Magnet. He said he's had students who are homeless and have learning problems. He added the students overcome a lot of "adverse situations in their homes" and blend in at school.

"You got to be mama, be counselor, you got to be a friend," said Gwen Scott, a teacher at McKinley Middle Magnet. "The only smile that some of them may see is the one you give them when they come to your class."

Scott has taught at McKinley Middle for 26 years. She explained how in the 1990s, the school was 70% white, but once the magnet component was taken away, the school flipped to 70% minority and she went through a learning phase.

"It's easy to teach a child who understands everything you throw at them, but you really got to work and want to work to make a child who's not been exposed to certain things to help them to learn. I got my greatest rewards from that," she stated.

A school's poverty classification is based on the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch. About 75% of the students who attend McKinley fall into that classification.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, fewer than 10,000 students are not counted as poverty level, meaning 89% of them are in poverty. If that's not staggering enough, the racial breakdown of the parish is 81% black. Scott said it's about selling success and at McKinley it works.

"Set your bar real real high, so they will climb to the bar you set. Don't lower your standards at all," she added.

McKinley regained magnet status a few years ago. Since then, the performance score has gone up 11 points. The Louisiana Department of Education said it plans to visit some of the schools and see exactly what they are doing to be successful and use it as a blueprint for other schools.

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