The state has a moral obligation to upgrade failing public schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.
White told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge that no parish school system in the state needs public school improvements more than those in the capital city.
He said that, in one section of north Baton Rouge, 19 of 21 public schools with about 10,000 students are graded “F” — for failing — by the state.
White said it is hard to “put ourselves in the shoes of those parents” whose children are stuck in failing schools and unable to finance private or parochial schools.
But he said that, just as New Orleans public schools have shown gains since Hurricane Katrina, low-performing schools in Baton Rouge can do the same.
“It doesn’t take a storm; it doesn’t take a flood,” White said.
The state superintendent of education recommends and carries out policies of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets policies for about 700,000 public school students statewide.
White said he wants to make Baton Rouge the Silicon Valley of the nation in terms of education reform.
The Silicon Valley, which is southeast of San Francisco, is a center of high technology activities.
Top state education officials announced last week that they were creating a special “Baton Rouge Achievement Zone” aimed at improving troubled schools in north Baton Rouge.
Nine schools are set to enter the zone initially. Up to 30 may do so.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system has about 43,000 students.
It is rated “D” by the state, and has been embroiled in a variety of controversies in recent weeks.
The district recently hired a new superintendent after lengthy arguments.
In addition, the state Senate last week approved a bill that would pave the way for a breakaway district in southeast Baton Rouge amid complaints from parents critical of school operations.
The two-bill package is awaiting action in the House.
The state has about 1,300 public schools.
White said 117 are rated “F” by the state and more than two dozen of those are in East Baton Rouge Parish.
However, the superintendent also said state residents have a right to be proud of some public school gains in the past decade or so.
He said that, while 44 percent of schools are rated “D” or “F” by the state, it would have been 80 percent 12 years ago.
White said Louisiana’s high school graduation rate is 71 percent, up from 61 percent about a dozen years ago.
The state hopes to reach an 80 percent high school graduation rate by 2014.
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