The St. Helena Parish School Board has asked a federal court to transfer the state-run middle school back to the local district, saying the state’s continued control is detrimental to the students and the parish, court records show.
The Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District took over St. Helena Central Middle School in 2010 with permission from both the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and U.S. District Judge James J. Brady, who oversees the parish’s 60-year-old desegregation suit.
Now, St. Helena school officials are asking Brady to give the issue another look, School Board attorney Nelson Taylor said Friday.
The Recovery School District “has not demonstrated that its control has significantly improved the performance of middle school students,” Taylor said in a motion filed Thursday. “And it has now become clear that depriving these students of the educational enhancements and programs available through staff and teachers of the St. Helena Parish School System is detrimental to academic development and adversely obstructs continuity of education” in the parish.
RSD officials could not be reached for comment Friday.
Schools taken over by the state are supposed to remain in the Recovery School District for a minimum of five years, according to the RSD web site. The process is guided generally by the gains made in testing and school performance scores, RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said previously.
However, because the St. Helena district is under a desegregation order, Taylor said Friday, Judge Brady should be the one to determine whether continued state control of the middle school is in the district’s best interest.
The case has been scheduled for a status conference July 24.
In addition to wanting control of the middle school, the School Board will not enter any more Memoranda of Understanding with the state regarding St. Helena Central Elementary and High schools, Taylor said Friday.
“Why should we? The schools are improving. Why is the state insisting on new MOUs?” Taylor said.
The current agreements went into effect on July 1, 2009, and expire Saturday.
At the time of the takeover, Taylor said, the local district faced a tremendous challenge of lack of resources, dilapidated school facilities, poor performance of students and a lack of community support. But in the past two years, “a remarkable story of success has unfolded,” he said.
That success, Taylor said, has included the local district having the most-improved state test scores from 2011 to 2012; a strengthening coalition of both black and white residents supporting public education in the parish; and a new superintendent, School Board and staff with a demonstrated capability of improving educational development within the district.
Taylor argues that the local district has outperformed the state-run middle school, and that the “inherent disruption of continuity” for children moving back and forth between the systems is detrimental to the students and the parish’s educational system as a whole.
Continued state control of the middle school “is not educationally sound,” and “obstructs community unity, hinders local support ... and continues to financially handicap” the district, he wrote in his motion.
“It should be one system, with one voice from the community,” Taylor said Friday.
The idea of system unity was underscored by an exhibit attached to Taylor’s motion outlining “points to consider for local control.” Among them, the district lists:
“After laying the groundwork for change,” Taylor said, “the St. Helena school district should be allowed to continue and build on its demonstrated success, rather than continuing penalties for the stagnant conditions that existed prior to the implementation of reform.”
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