Optimism is a useful quality for a public school superintendent. Bernard Taylor, recently selected to head the East Baton Rouge Parish School system, seems to have a lot of it.
In his recent address to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Taylor told a “glass-half-full” story about the schools in his system, noting steady improvement in test scores and a recent strong showing for teachers who were evaluated as part of a pilot project gauging teacher effectiveness.
Taylor conceded significant obstacles for the district, including some $80 million in budget cuts that the district has absorbed in the past three years — and the prospect of more budget cuts in the future.
“We have worked diligently to keep those cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” Taylor told his audience.
The school district faces other obstacles. Middle-class families have fled the district’s public schools in droves over the past few decades. The school system ranks 48th out of 70 school districts in the state in student performance. Taylor has his work cut out for him.
The superintendent was right, however, in acknowledging that he can’t improve Baton Rouge schools by himself. He used “we” a great deal in his Press Club speech — a wise recognition, we think, of the limits of a school superintendent’s reach.
Along with failing schools, the East Baton Rouge Parish public school system also includes schools nationally recognized for academic excellence. The system’s magnet programs and gifted and talented programs are a big plus for this community. Taylor said that the success of those programs hinges on a broad base of students and tax support to make them viable.
Any glass-half-full story invites attention to the other half of the glass that’s not quite so satisfying. A sensible approach to education reform must acknowledge both the promise and the perils of Baton Rouge schools as they now exist.
But realism is necessarily grounded in facts, and Taylor made a good point when he noted that negative perceptions of Baton Rouge public schools are often formed by people who haven’t visited a public school campus in years — if ever.
We encourage Baton Rouge residents to visit their neighborhood public schools and see them as they are — the good and the bad, the stellar programs as well as the problem areas. Volunteer opportunities in public schools abound, allowing visitors to campuses to stay engaged and make a difference.
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