Officials looking for public input on Devall-Chamberlin merger
What’s in a name? A good deal, if you ask West Baton Rouge education officials.
The West Baton Rouge School Board was unable to pass a vote on the name for the new K-8 school slated to replace Chamberlin Elementary and Devall Middle schools during its Wednesday, Nov. 15 meeting.
Board members voted 5-3 to change the name to Chamberlin Devall School, just one vote shy of meeting the two-thirds threshold. School Board member Leon Goudeau, who was absent from the meeting due to a doctor’s appointment, said he would have voted in favor renaming the school Chamberlin Devall School.
The West Baton Rouge School system is now floating some potential names on a survey through Dec. 8. The names include Chamberlin Devall School, The Erwinville School, Rosehill School and Northside K-8 School. Respondents can also suggest their own name.
How the new K-8 school will identify itself was at the center of the discussion at the School Board meeting.
Devall Middle School Principal Laree Taylor articulated this point to School Board members prior to the vote. Although many children from her school and from Chamberlin Elementary are from Erwinville, the schools have created distinct identities in the parish, she said.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a great deal of concern about renaming the school for one small segment of our population. What everyone felt was that we wanted to maintain the communities that we’ve built,” she said. “Both Chamberlin and Devall have a strong history in the area and what we would love to do is keep that identity, and that community that we built out there. We felt like using and maintaining the two names for the new school would help us do that.”
School Board member Ronald “Blue” LeBlanc had a different perspective.
“I believe in starting new,” LeBlanc said.
For LeBlanc, the past is history. He said he wants to see a fresh start. Parents have told him they want to see the local schools go back to the way things used to be, he said.
“It’s not for us, it’s for the children,” he said. “It’s for them. It’s not gonna be like the way it was.”
The north end of the parish is filled with multiple neighborhoods and small towns that developed distinct identities from each other, most with roots that date back more than 100 years.
Bueche, founded in the ‘20s by Joseph Calirville Bueche, had its own post office, dance hall and restaurant, according to local history book “The History of West Baton Rouge: People Places and Progress.” Erwinville, a few decades older, was a highly industrial town with as many as 500 citizens in 1895, the history book says.
Many of the communities have their own histories of education too. A 1915 report from the Louisiana inspector of rural schools notes schools in Erwinville, Chamberlin, Lobdell and Section for white and black students, none numbering more than 63 students, a few rooms and a few staff members.
That history is a far cry from the modern West Baton Baton Rouge School District vision, which made plans for major growth through 2050 after voters approved a tax increase last December to improve school facilities and teacher salaries. Chamberlin Elementary and Devall Middle School were among the facilities that needed the most improvements.
Elizabeth Dickinson, with three kids between Chamberlin and Devall, said her children are excited about the possibility of a new school. She voted online to name the new facility The Rosehill School but said she doesn’t feel strongly in either way about the name change.
West Baton Rouge is already too small of a community to be divided, she said.
“Everyone tries to separate us as the north side. It doesn’t speak to us as a community,” she said. “I hope we can see this new school for what it is.”
The survey can be found on West Baton Rouge Schools website wbrschools.net.