New superintendent asks for guidance on schools’ status
After six months in limbo, a 21-page set of recommendations of the ways the East Baton Rouge Parish school system can move from 48th to one of the top 10 school districts in Louisiana by 2020 is getting a second look.
The recommendations, including more pay for higher-performing teachers, “community-friendly” progress reports and more enrichment classes, are part of a new strategic plan for the school system that a 33-member Committee for Educational Excellence developed over much of 2011 and released in December.
On Wednesday, the committee, made up Baton Rouge-area community and business leaders, heard from the man who will have to make this work, new Superintendent Bernard Taylor.
The School Board, after months of searching and two rounds of interviews, on March 22 finally selected Taylor, superintendent for the past six years in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Taylor complimented the committee’s hard work.
“Is it helpful beyond words? Yes, it is helpful,” said the new superintendent, whose first day of work was June 18.
Apologizing that he’s a “Johnny-Come-Lately,” Taylor, however, suggested the committee offer guidance in the following areas:
- Technology and how it should be used in instruction.
n Career and college readiness.
n Safety of school buildings.
n Funding schools based on the need of students.
Taylor also said that the “bold goal” of having the parish school system, the second-largest in the state, reach the top 10 by 2020 makes him a bit nervous but he will take it on.
He noted that the current No Child Left Behind federal education law, enacted in 2002, called for all schoolchildren to be high-performing by 2014, a goal the country is nowhere close to meeting.
“That meant the blind were going to see, the lame were going to walk, and the deaf were going to hear by 2014, and if one child didn’t, then we wouldn’t make it,” he said.
Taylor also noted that with budget cuts an annual affair, the school system will need outside help to meet these goals.
“In a resource-challenged institution, these are lofty, lofty goals,” Taylor said. “They are going to require public-private partnerships.”
Dennis Blunt, co-chairman of the citizen’s committee, thanked Taylor, saying that’s the kind of feedback he’s been hoping to get.
“My thought was, ‘Wow, wouldn’t it have been nice if you had been here earlier?’” said Blunt, a local attorney and former president of 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge.
Becoming a top 10 school district will not be easy.
The latest district performance scores, released in October, showed East Baton Rouge Parish as 48th of 71 school districts in the state with a score of 86.2 — an improvement of three spots from the year before. The state average is 93.9 and the top possible score is 200.
Taylor also did not discuss how much has changed in education in Louisiana since December.
As part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s second-term education agenda, the Legislature recently approved sending public money for some students in low-performing public schools to parochial and private schools via student vouchers, expanding charters schools, and ending tenure for most new teachers.
One area where the new education laws and the proposed strategic plan diverge is on rewards for higher-performing teachers.
The state calls for districts to give financial rewards to teachers whose students show the most improvement on test scores. The state, however, calls for districts to reward the top 10 percent of teachers, while the parish strategic plan calls for rewards to 25 percent.
After the meeting, Taylor acknowledged that some parts of the strategic plan may have to be adjusted as the school system figures out how best to recruit, pay and evaluate teachers and comply with the new state law.
The citizens committee agreed Wednesday to ask the relevant committees to examine Taylor’s ideas and come back in August with something for the School Board to look at, with the idea of having the board vote on it September.
Taylor said he wants to have meetings to get input from employees and other “stakeholders” before the board approves the plan. He wants them to understand and buy into the changes.
“This is for my comfort level as a new superintendent,” he said.
A copy of the proposed strategic plan released in December is available at http://news.ebrschools.org/eduWEB2/1000169/docs/cee_strategic_plan_2011_121211.pdf