School chief told state not doing enough
State Superintendent of Education John White on Thursday said the state and the East Baton Rouge Parish school system both share blame for several chronically low-performing schools in north Baton Rouge, but said he’s hopeful they both will join forces to fix them.
“When I look at north Baton Rouge, I see an immense opportunity,” White said.
White has been visiting school boards around the state to explain changes that are being made in public education — changes outlined in a document titled “Louisiana Believes.” The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday was his latest stop on that tour.
White last spoke to the board in December, shortly before taking over as state superintendent. He was pitching an idea at the time that was later unveiled in April as the “Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.”
The zone, which now includes six state-run schools in Baton Rouge, aims to improve student achievement at low-performing and poverty-ridden schools in north Baton Rouge through a mix of greater principal autonomy and generous, outside philanthropic support for special services for students.
The parish school system, however, has yet to enter into any formal partnership with the state in connection with the zone.
After White finished his presentation, board member Vereta Lee began the questioning.
Lee expressed indignation that the state is requiring schools and teachers to do a lot more but has frozen school aid for the past three years. She also complained that the state, through the Recovery School District, is taking poor care of the schools in Baton Rouge it has taken over.
White responded that Louisiana has done better than other states that have cut school funding. He said he would have loved it if the state’s economy had been doing better so school funding could have been increased.
“We were playing defense on the budget,” he said.
“Does this make things easier for teachers? No, it does not,” he acknowledged.
Lee said she recently visited Crestworth Middle, one of the schools taken over by the state, and found it in atrocious condition.
“If we get those schools back, they won’t be fit to have a dog educated in them,” Lee said.
White didn’t deny that Crestworth has had problems, but said that East Baton Rouge Parish also let its schools decline badly before they were taken over by the state. Crestworth until recently had been operated as a charter school.
“It is the product of a long time of neglect,” he said.
White said that both the school system and the RSD have had problems and that RSD has been trying to fix those problems by ending contracts with charter school groups that “weren’t getting the job done.”
“We have to get our act together and get our schools running better, and you have to get your act together and get your schools running better,” he said.
White said the Achievement Zone remains a good option. He said he’s glad that the school system finally has a superintendent, Bernard Taylor, who started work in mid-June. He said he and Taylor have had great conversations full of “innovation and new ideas.”
After Lee spoke, the questioning from board members grew less charged and more cordial.
Taylor sat quietly and did not speak during White’s talk.
After the meeting, White said he would like to forge an agreement on the Achievement Zone with the school system this fall.
White said he thought the presentation and question-and-answer session went well.
“I expected nothing other than a decent reception,” he said.