Scotlandville plan recast

Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Tammy Square, left asks East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor, a question Monday at Scotlandville High School after Taylor presented some proposed changes to the schools in the area.
Advocate staff photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Tammy Square, left asks East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor, a question Monday at Scotlandville High School after Taylor presented some proposed changes to the schools in the area.

Board begins debate on Taylor’s proposals Feb. 21

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Monday suggested some changes to public schools in the Scotlandville area though less extensive ones than changes he laid out two weeks ago for schools near Capitol and Glen Oaks high schools in Baton Rouge.

Speaking to about 50 people at Scotlandville High School, Taylor said his proposals are more modest in scope because the schools in Scotlandville are generally in better shape than ones in other parts of the parish.

“You do have some very strong programs, yes you do,” Taylor said. “Can they be improved? Yes, they can.”

Taylor is asking the School Board to approve his proposals at its Feb. 21 meeting. The board plans to have an initial debate on the changes to three of four “attendance regions” when the board meets Thursday.

Taylor has said he wants to reconfigure and remodel dozens of public schools in four areas of the parish with boundaries that would erase the neighborhood zones of the elementary and middle schools in those regions. Three of those regions — Capitol, Glen Oaks and Scotlandville — are in north Baton Rouge.

Taylor has postponed announcing plans for schools in the southeast part of the parish, which he calls the Woodlawn region. He said he first wants to conclude discussions he is having with the state Department of Education about the possible return of one or more schools in north Baton Rouge taken over for chronic low academic performance.

Under Taylor’s plan, the school system would set up regional “marketplaces,” pitting school against school in a competition for students and the per-pupil funding that comes with those students. That includes Scotlandville, the area generally bounded on the north by Blount Road and Scenic Highway, on the west by the Mississippi River, on the south by Harding Boulevard and on the east by Elm Grove Garden Drive.

Scotlandville, Crestworth, Progress and Ryan elementary schools will cease to have attendance zones and families can choose which one works best for their child.

Taylor said this choice will be limited in the upper grades because students already at those schools likely will stay as they get promoted, but kindergarten classes will be wide open.

Diola Bagayoko, a professor of physics at Southern University, said he likes that aspect of Taylor’s plan and thinks the competition will drive the elementary schools to improve.

“This is not phony choice,” he said.

Taylor also said he wants to try an experiment in alternative schooling. He wants to place this program in the former Beechwood Elementary and is going to call it the “Superintendent’s Academy.”

Instead of sending students to alternative schools after they’ve been expelled, Taylor wants schools to identify students who are older than their peers and in need of special help and “invite” them to the Superintendent’s Academy.

“As a parent, do you want someone 21 years old having classes with your 13- or 14-year-old?” Taylor asked audience members.

Taylor said the academy will employ focused and creative use of technology and may have longer hours than traditional schools.

“This is not going to be, ‘Plop you down in front of a computer and have at it,’ ” Taylor said.

In placing the Superintendent’s Academy at the former Beechwood Elementary, Taylor is moving the school that’s there now, Scotlandville Middle Pre-Engineering Academy, to a much larger location, the current campus of Scotlandville Elementary School.

Taylor also is suggesting adding some arts instruction to the math-and-science approach of Scotlandville Middle Pre-Engineering Academy.

Joe Jenkins, an alumnus of Scotlandville High, expressed concern about whether there would be enough space for all children. He plans to follow up with Taylor to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

“We did this before, where we closed a few schools and we didn’t end up having enough space,” he said.

After the meeting, Carla Powell, a resident of Scotlandville and a teacher at Belaire High, said she’s intrigued by Taylor’s ideas, including putting a gifted-and-talented program at Progress Elementary. She said, though, parents like her who work far from home need more before-school care options.

Overall, though, Powell said she likes where Taylor is headed, saying it may help stitch back together the schools in Scotlandville that have been disrupted by many changes in recent years.