“We are concerned with the academic achievement of these schools, so we want to make sure we get the best possible people there.” Bernard Taylor , superintendent, East Baton Rouge Parish school system
Six East Baton Rouge Parish public schools are leaderless with less than a month to go before classes start Aug. 8.
The schools are Capitol, Park Forest and University Terrace elementaries, Mayfair Middle, and Tara and Lee high schools. Lee High is reopening three years after it was closed to avoid possible takeover by the Louisiana Department of Education.
Superintendent Bernard Taylor said Thursday that he will start filling the principal vacancies next week with the help of a new administrator, Michael Haggen, who starts work Monday.
Taylor said he’s concerned less with speed than with making the right call.
“We are concerned with the academic achievement of these schools, so we want to make sure we get the best possible people there,” Taylor said.
Haggen, who has most recently worked in St. Louis, and before that in New Orleans, is filling the newly created position of deputy superintendent for innovation. He was hired June 11.
Haggen will oversee the majority of schools in the district, including the 53 with letter grades of “D” or “F” under the state’s school accountability system.
The 23 higher-performing “A,” “B” and “C” schools are already overseen by Carlos Sam, who is taking over the new position of associate superintendent for school leadership and instruction.
The slow pace in filling these vacancies — two go back to February — is due in part to a leadership vacuum.
John Dilworth left as superintendent in late February. Sam, previously director of magnet programs, spent almost four months as interim superintendent, and Taylor only took over as permanent superintendent June 18.
“I think a lot of it was, for a period, we didn’t have a true superintendent,” School Board President Barbara Freiberg said Wednesday.
A native of Pittsburgh, Taylor spent six years as superintendent in Grand Rapids, Mich., and five years before that as superintendent in Kansas City, Mo.
A new state law, approved by the state Legislature this spring and which took effect July 1, gives superintendents like Taylor a free hand in hiring and firing employees. Before July 1, the superintendent approved hires but had to submit lists of hires and personnel changes to the School Board for its approval each month.
The new state law also gives school principals more powers to hire their teachers and support staff.
Freiberg said she expects that Taylor will continue to send board members lists of personnel changes for informational purposes only, but that has yet to be worked out.
The school system’s online job listings do not show any openings in the six positions, suggesting that the application period for those jobs has already closed.
Tara is the largest school without a leader. Its official enrollment in 2011-12 was 906 students. Principal Luanne Estess announced she was retiring in February.
Lee High was reopened in May and on June 21, the 11-member School Board settled on its configuration. The board, however, did not pick a leader for the school. The reopened high school will take parts of Tara’s as well as McKinley and Woodlawn high schools’ attendance zones, starting this fall with an estimated 263 ninth- and tenth-graders.
Freiberg said the plan is have a short-term principal for the 2012-13 school year and spend the year finding a permanent principal for the future.
Taylor has talked about expanding to more grades in the future as well as adding special programs to attract new students to the school system.
Taylor said one big principal vacancy was filled in June just before he started. It’s Glen Oaks High and the new principal is Onetha Wheeler.
Wheeler, who also has gone by the name Onetha Albert, spent the 2011-12 school year as principal of Capitol High School, which is part of the state-run Recovery School District, or RSD. She previously spent several years as principal of Scotlandville Middle Pre-Engineering Academy, a magnet school.
Wheeler was up for the Glen Oaks High job along with Linda Lewis, principal of Istrouma High from 2008 until it was taken over by the RSD this spring.
Before the School Board’s May 17 meeting, both Wheeler and Lewis were at different times presented as the recommended principal for Glen Oaks High.
But that night Sam, finishing out his tenure as interim superintendent, asked the board to give both Lewis and Wheeler the unusual designation, “principal school to be assigned.” He said Taylor wanted to take more time before filling the Glen Oaks High position.
“We think it would be in the best interest of Dr. Taylor to further interview these candidates,” Sam said.
Wheeler was later assigned to the school in mid-June, Taylor said. Lewis has since decided to retire, the superintendent said.