La. to use fund to boost low-rated schools

The state hopes to attract visionary teachers, principals and others to reshape D and F schools used by nearly 200,000 students, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

“We are seeking the educators who want the biggest challenge and have the best vision,” White told reporters.

A $5 million fund — all federal dollars — will be used for training, and those picked will have flexibility over hiring and firing, control of budgets and curriculum.

About 63,000 students attend F-rated public schools in Louisiana and about 135,000 are enrolled in D-rated schools.

Those students represent about 28 percent of the state’s public school enrollment.

White said the state has shown some progress in turning around troubled classrooms.

He said 29 percent of New Orleans students attend schools with failing marks, down from 77 percent in 2006, but that improvements are coming too slowly.

“If we are really going to deliver on the promise we made to children, we have to accelerate the pace of change,” White said. “We have to accelerate creating a new vision where there are struggling schools.”

The grants will be available to local school districts, non-profit groups, teachers and principals.

One type of grant will allow educators to create a new or alternative school for the 2014-15 school year.

The other assistance will fund the expansion of high-performing schools for certain students who would otherwise attend a D or F school.

Under one scenario, a school district could designate a teacher or principal to lead turnaround efforts.

After a year of training, White said, that educator could be placed in charge of a new or alternative school.

Applicants who lack the support of a local school district could go through national and local training and then be placed in a troubled traditional or charter school, which are supposed to offer innovative education methods.

The list of F-rated schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school district includes 20 of 85 schools with about 9,000 students.

White said the grants will typically total about $50,000, and in some cases will be matched by local school districts.

He said the $5 million has previously been employed for more generalized efforts to improve low-performing classrooms.

“These funds were used to make grants to school systems that were helpful, but have obviously not drawn down the number of D and F schools,” White said.

He said part of the aim of the grants is to take advantage of talent within the public school system.

“There are great leaders with creative ideas within our schools,” White said.