The Challenge of Istrouma High

Editor’s Note: Istrouma High School, once the largest high school in Louisiana and one of the most outstanding, fell on hard times a few years ago.  It was declared a failing school and was taken over by the State of Louisiana. Unfortunately, the State too failed and decided to close the school permanently four years ago.  It was destined for demolition. However, a band of determined Indian alumni refused to let that decision stand. Three years ago, a new superintendent, Warren Drake, and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, succeeded in getting Istrouma High back from the State. They invested near $30 million and turned it into virtually a new school. They handpicked a new principal, staff, and faculty and planned a new program that was designed to draw students from North Baton Rouge and pull the once tight-knit community back together.  The school reopened in August 2017 and had a banner year, ending in May 2018 with 452 students.  Now Istrouma is beginning its second year with an amazing 852 students — 89 percent growth in one year!  North Baton Rouge is coming home to Istrouma High!

Now that Istrouma High School has reopened and is up and running for its second year, I want to address my fellow Istrouma graduates from the 1950’s and 1960’s about where we go from here. I love Istrouma High School — our community, our traditions, our history of achievement, our faculty and staff, and my fellow Istrouma graduates. No one loves Istrouma any more than I do! So I hope you will take what I am about to say in the spirit that it is intended.
I arrived at Istrouma High School as a wide-eyed 10th grader in August 1962. My family was poor because my dad was disabled from wounds and injuries he suffered during combat in World War II. Despite his sacrifice, the U.S. government didn’t even see fit to give him a pension. He did get to go to the VA hospital but they only made his problems worse. We struggled financially every day because of Dad’s disability.
Most of my fellow students also came from humble backgrounds, although the vast majority had a father who was working and had a steady income. In fact, almost all of us had a mama and a daddy with us at home. When I was in the 6th grade at Fairfields Elementary, our 6th grade teacher took a poll of the 30 students in our class. He asked how many of you have a parent who has been divorced? Only one student had a parent who was divorced. The other 29 had a mom and dad at home. Divorce was rare, and we had the advantage of the care and guidance of two loving parents.
Let me stop right there a moment.
Of course, you realize that you and I did not create that situation. We didn’t create that home or those parents who cared about us. Our parents created that situation. We were GIVEN a loving home and two loving parents. Our parents had to work at it, but it was not something you and I earned. We could have been born in China or India in a place ravaged by poverty or war. But God really blessed us by allowing us to be born into a family in North Baton Rouge! That was a great advantage that we enjoyed.
The community of North Baton Rouge — which was amazing — was not something you and I created either. It was GIVEN to us by the people who came before us — people who worked very hard and gave of themselves.
When we arrived at Istrouma High School, we arrived at a school steeped in tradition. It was a tradition of SUCCESS! Yes, there were countless championships, honors, and awards. But we didn’t create Istrouma High School. It was there waiting for us. It was EASY to BELIEVE that we too could be successful, because at Istrouma success was right before our eyes! To achieve success, we simply had do what we were told. We KNEW that success was possible! How could we not? The evidence was all around us. We saw other kids just like us who had achieved success in every way.
We were surrounded in our daily lives by countless role models. Our parents, our neighbors, our pastors, our teachers, local business owners, and even political leaders were outstanding. This was the World War II generation! They had sacrificed everything so that this nation could remain free! Who would not be inspired to follow these heroes? Young boys had real MEN to look up to. Young girls had virtuous LADIES to duplicate and follow.
NO ONE — absolutely NO ONE — told us we were losers and couldn’t be successful. If they had, we wouldn’t have believed it anyway. We knew that if we did the work and paid the price, good things would happen for us.
So, with two loving parents, a wonderful community, a tradition of success all around us, and countless role models, we plowed on too, and most of us did what we were told. Today, the vast majority of us can look back with pride on our lives and with gratitude for the role Istrouma High School played.
We were truly blessed in so many ways!
Now let’s look at the incoming students at Istrouma High School this fall…
Most of these children do not have a mama and daddy living at home with them. Quite often, they are raised by an elderly grandmother or aunt. Many of them have never known the love of a father.
Sometimes their homes are disrupted by the presence of drugs or alcohol. One or more parents may be in prison.
There is a shortage of positive role models. Sometimes their role models may be an athlete on TV or a drug dealer on the street.
Our children in North Baton Rouge are overwhelmingly poor and often lack the necessities of life. They lack transportation to get places. Too often there is no one to take them to school activities and events. They have attended schools that are very different from ours. Some of them have been labeled “failing schools” taught by “failing teachers” — however false that often is!
Many have never been told they are champions or leaders or bound for success. On the contrary, they have often been told they are losers headed to prison or an early death. And the evidence that is correct is all around them.  In the past two years, we have had more than 50 murders in 70805 alone.
I say all this not to excuse bad behavior by anyone or to suggest that this country of ours, this state, and this community are not filled with opportunity, because they are! I believe there is more opportunity today than ever!
This article is directed at my fellow Istrouma High graduates.
If I have heard it said once, I have heard it a thousand times, “Well, I hope the school is a success, but it will never be like it was when we were there!”
Yes, indeed that is true. It was — for us — a wonderful moment in time that can never be recreated. But never forget: We were the recipients of a wonderful gift — Istrouma High School — that we did not create. We simply walked in the doors, did the work, and reaped the rewards. The opportunity was given to us, and we took advantage of it.
The truth is, Istrouma High School is far, far more important TODAY than it was when we were there. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, East Baton Rouge Parish was a growing, dynamic place with a bright future. But today, this parish is in deep trouble. We are on the verge of becoming another Detroit or Chicago. And so many of our worst problems are centered in North Baton Rouge, where crime is so great and there is a lot of misery and hopelessness.
Nothing is as important as our faith or our family. However, beyond faith and family, Istrouma High School is the thing that offers the most hope to turn around the lives of the people living in North Baton Rouge. There is no “community” in North Baton Rouge today. It is just a random collection of people who live in the area. Until last year, there was no high school between Scotlandville and Baton Rouge High. There was no Istrouma High School to hold North Baton Rouge together. But now the new Istrouma High School is the focal point for once again making North Baton Rouge into a community.
What does Istrouma High School offer today? A plan of action to turn around the lives of its students, and I can tell you that it’s working! Because of this school, students will be prepared for college or to get a good job. The school offers strong discipline with zero tolerance. It focuses on character, and that will make all the difference!Under Supt. Warren Drake and Istrouma principal Reginald Douglas, Istrouma has strong leadership — as strong as when we were there! There are great role models on the Istrouma faculty and coaching staff, including a lot of men who are great role models for boys to look up to.
Since you and I graduated from Istrouma, nothing remotely like this has happened before.
Istrouma is a beautiful new school, with a great new faculty, strict discipline, a wonderful plan of action, and a vision for the future.
Istrouma High School is poised to change lives — and to save lives! It is poised to change the direction of an entire community and by doing that to save our parish before it drowns.
Mark my word: You are going to see enormous changes result from the new Istrouma High School. More than that. Istrouma will once again become one of the great schools in Louisiana! You will be very proud!
Meanwhile, we need your support. Please don’t minimize the importance of this effort by dismissing it as “not the same” as it was when we were there. Obviously, 50 or more years have passed, and nothing is the same. Yet, the importance of the work at Istrouma High School simply could not be any greater.
Please visit the school. You are welcome at any time. We are going to have a wonderful Alumni Center in operation soon.
Please support the school by getting invoived, whether it is attending sporting events, mentoring students, or advising a club or organization.
Please support the school financially by contributing to the sports and extracurricular activities.
There are more than 25,000 living alumni of Istrouma High School. So we have the power to be a blessing to anything we choose to support.
So please step up and do what you have always done — love Istrouma High School!
If you’d like to help, please send me a note at Woody Jenkins, 910 North Foster Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70806 or email me at

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