EBR school system proposes big revamp of strategic plan

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLANDEast Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Jill Dyason, right, reads an email from a concerned resident Wednesday during the Committee for Educational Excellence's first formal presentation of its draft strategic plan. Seated, from left are, board members President Barbara Freiberg, Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Jerry Arbour. The plan, which will soon undergo revisions, outlines possible strategies for improving the system.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLANDEast Baton Rouge Parish School Board member Jill Dyason, right, reads an email from a concerned resident Wednesday during the Committee for Educational Excellence's first formal presentation of its draft strategic plan. Seated, from left are, board members President Barbara Freiberg, Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Jerry Arbour. The plan, which will soon undergo revisions, outlines possible strategies for improving the system.

Unchanged for the past 11 months, a proposed new strategic plan for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is set to get a big makeover over the next month.

“My goal is to make sure we have this adopted by the end of the year,” Superintendent Bernard Taylor said Wednesday.

Taylor said a 33-member Committee for Educational Excellence, made up of local business and community leaders, did a “stellar job” on the plan and that its many recommendations all help the effort to improve student achievement.

Taylor, however, gave the committee a lot of homework, including suggesting that the plan include more focus on technology, how its recommendations can be paid for, consider how its recommendations can be measured, and that it re-examine its call for renewed neighborhood attendance zones.

The committee developed this strategic plan throughout much of 2011 and released a draft version in December. It sat on the shelf while the School Board searched for new superintendent, a search that led to the hiring of Taylor, who started in June.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Dennis Blunt, co-chairman of the committee and an attorney. “A lot of work to do.”

The far-reaching document suggests giving principals greater say in the teachers they hire and more control of their school budgets. The document also suggests automatic firing of teachers whose students show the least growth in test scores, firing of principals who fail to meet three-year performance goals, higher pay to teachers willing to work in struggling schools, as well as greater openness to innovation and school choice.

About 30 people, including several School Board members, were in the audience Wednesday in a meeting room at the school system’s Professional Development Center on North Sherwood Forest Drive to discuss the draft plan. A few audience members dominated the discussion, offering a diverse number of suggested changes.

School Board member Jill Dyason had problems with a passage in the draft plan suggesting that students be able to choose to attend “any school in the district” as long as they met that school’s entrance requirements. She read from an email of a person who had attended the meetings on that topic and felt it didn’t reflect what was discussed then.

Mattie Coxe, a parent, suggested the school system should move away from schools with entrance requirements because they relegate some students to a worse education.

“At one time we called them white schools and colored schools,” Coxe said. “Now we are referring to them using a new nomenclature and we call them magnet schools and traditional schools. But it’s the same system.”

Taylor was uncomfortable with the document’s call for more neighborhood schools. He said he is in the middle of developing some proposals that wouldn’t mesh with those parts of the plan.

“We’re trying to move away from a notion of an attendance zone to an attendance region,” he said.

Beverly Trahan, a grandparent of a student in the school system, said the school system should protect its pre-kindergarten classes from testing mania.

“We’re moving the prep for testing further down to early ages so that teachers don’t have time to focus on the things we should be focusing on,” Trahan said.

Stephen Stewart, a former teacher in the school system, was unimpressed with the plan.

“This is very generic,” Stewart said. “These are methods that have been employed since the public education system has existed in America.”

School Board President Barbara Freiberg said the draft plan is broad on purpose, that educators will flesh it out later with specific initiatives.

“The education meat to these tactics is where the EBR staff comes in,” she said.

Despite his critiques, Taylor said the strategic plan will help him do his job better.

“This plan has a lot of promise, and it is going to be a blueprint for how we move forward,” he said.

The draft plan and supporting documents are posted on the school system’s website at http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/ebrstrategicplan/.