Progress not enough to stop takeover
Istrouma High School is being taken over this summer by the Louisiana Department of Education and placed under new management, the interim superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system said Tuesday.
Interim Superintendent Carlos Sam said Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District informed him of the impending takeover during a meeting they had two weeks ago.
Dobard confirmed the takeover.
“We just haven’t seen the type of transformation that would warrant us staying with the current management agreement,” Dobard said.
The takeover affects about 1,000 students in grades 9 to 12, including about 225 who attend EBR Lab Academy housed on the Istrouma campus. Istrouma is joining seven other former East Baton Rouge Parish schools the RSD took over and placed under new management in 2008 and 2009.
Dobard said the state does not plan to take over any other East Baton Rouge Parish schools besides Istrouma this go-around.
On April 16, Sam and a handful of top administrators met with faculty and staff at Istrouma High, as well as their peers at EBR Lab, to inform them of the likely change in management.
Human Resources staff followed up Monday, providing information to teachers and staff. The School Board is expected to do little if any hiring this summer and may end up having to lay off some employees to plug a large budget shortfall, estimated recently at $28 million to $33 million.
More disruption is likely in the near future.
At 11 a.m. Thursday, RSD is holding a news conference at Capitol High School to lay out details of a proposed “achievement zone” that is expected to include roughly 20 north Baton Rouge schools. Details so far have been sketchy.
Sam said he has yet to see a plan of what’s going to happen with this proposed “achievement zone,” which would include schools the RSD runs or oversees, as well as ones the parish school system runs.
Sam said he’s planning to hold a community forum at Istrouma High soon to explain what’s happening.
“We’ll wait on the announcement on Thursday, so we can have a better idea of where the state is going with the achievement zone,” Sam said.
Past RSD takeovers in Baton Rouge were very disruptive, involving wholesale and repeated changes in leadership and teachers. Less than half of the students in those schools previously remained.
Dobard said the takeover of Istrouma High and creation of the achievement zone need not be disruptive as long as RSD and the school system work with each other.
“It’s a matter of what spirit of cooperation they want to work in,” Dobard said.
Sam said he opposes the Istrouma takeover. He noted that the high school had a very successful year in 2010-11.
Istrouma High improved its school performance score 9.1 points that year, though it’s still considered an “F” school by state accountability standards. Istrouma would have to grow at a much faster rate this year to escape that label. Sam said he expects more growth this school year, though not necessarily that much.
“Based on preliminary projections, we think they are going to make growth this time around as well,” Sam said.
Dobard responded that despite the growth, more than 60 percent of Istrouma students remain below grade level.
Istrouma High Principal Linda Lewis is no stranger to takeover. She was principal at Capitol High School for several years until it was taken over by the state in 2008. From 2005 to 2008, Lewis ran the high school’s girls-only school — an experiment since abandoned — and the school came close to exiting corrective action before the state took it over.
Now, Lewis said she’s feeling déjà vu.
“The first time I really took it hard,” she said. “The thing is bigger than me. I’m not taking it personally.”
Lewis said the school is filled with tough-to-teach students, more than a third of them a year or more behind their peers and a quarter of them identified for special education services.
Lewis said she feels her faculty and staff, which number about 90 people, have complied with the school’s management agreement with the state struck in 2009.
“We feel like we’ve jumped through the hoops to do what the state wanted us to do and what the district wanted us to do,” she said. “It was a daunting task.”
Lewis said about two-thirds of her teachers are tenured, meaning the school system is obligated to place them somewhere else in the school system, but the rest will have to find new jobs.
Lewis said a couple of her teachers attended an RSD teacher fair held Saturday at Capitol High and filled out applications for jobs at the new Istrouma High. They were interviewed by Robert Webb, former principal at Belaire High in Baton Rouge and current principal at Slaughter Community Charter School.
Dobard acknowledged that Webb, a graduate of Istrouma High, will be the next principal at his alma mater.
EBR Lab’s future is uncertain. The small high school was started in 2007 with much fanfare, modeled after Bronx Lab School, a charter school in New York City founded by Baton Rouge native Marc Sternberg.
The school system nearly closed EBR Lab last year. Sam said he will have a recommendation about EBR Lab before a special School Board meeting May 2 to consider possible budget cuts.
“We have to make a decision whether we move EBR Lab or close EBR Lab,” Sam said.