School system lags  on plan

Strategic vision ID’d, not used

After two years, and a series of missed deadlines, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system has yet to settle on a new strategic plan, and it’s not clear how soon they will.

Five of the current 11 School Board members were elected in 2010 on an agenda that included working with community leaders to create a new blueprint that would help lift the school system to among the best in the state of Louisiana.

A 33-member Committee for Educational Excellence, made up of local business and community leaders, spent much of 2011 developing a draft plan, but that plan has collected dust ever since.

The far-reaching document suggests giving principals greater say in the teachers they hire and more control of their school budgets. The document also suggests automatic firing of teachers whose students show the least growth in test scores, firing of principals who fail to meet three-year performance goals, higher pay to teachers willing to work in struggling schools, as well as greater openness to innovation and school choice.

It included an overarching “bold goal” where East Baton Rouge Parish becomes a top 10 school district by 2020. The school system’s latest district performance score recently moved up from a D to a C ranking, but left it ranked 55th out of 71 districts in the state.

The contentious search that eventually led to the hiring of Superintendent Bernard Taylor accounts for much of the delay in ratifying this plan.

Since Taylor started in mid-June, the Committee on Educational Excellence has met twice, once in June, once in November, to get feedback from the superintendent and from community members on the draft plan. After the Nov. 8 meeting, Taylor said he hoped to have a final plan by the end of the year.

Reached by phone Dec. 28, Taylor said he wants to await the results of a series of community forums he plans to hold in the new year. Five forums were held in November.

“We’re asking people what they think, we’re asking people what they want, and before we present anything to the board, we want to make sure there’s a community consensus to move forward,” Taylor said.

At the forums, Taylor has offered a “framework for discussion” that will affect 36 schools in four sections of the parish by turning them into “attendance regions” that offer more choices than currently available.

What will be on these four different regional menus is unclear. Taylor has suggested converting a handful of schools to magnet schools and others to “grade centers” that every child in a given grade and in a given region would be assigned to, unless they choose one of the other school options.

Taylor said the process may be unfamiliar to some in Baton Rouge accustomed to being consulted about decisions only late in the process.

“What we’ve attempted to do is not to plan for people, but people to plan with people,” Taylor said.

Taylor wouldn’t say how long exactly he thinks it will take.

“This is not going to be a rush process,” he said.

Taylor has said the citizens committee did a “stellar job,” but he has suggested changes. He suggested a greater focus on technology, how its recommendations can be funded, consider how its recommendations can be measured, and re-examining the plan’s call for renewed neighborhood attendance zones.

School Board President Barbara Freiberg said the ball is in Taylor’s court.

“He wanted to look at tweaking it in a few areas,” Freiberg said. “Really and truly we’re waiting for him to get back to us on us.”

Taylor, however, rejected the idea that he would be making the recommendations for changes, rather they would reflect the feedback received at the forums.

Board member David Tatman, who is co-chairman of the citizens committee, said he wants general counsel Domoine Rutledge to examine the year-old draft plan to see if any of it conflicts or is made redundant by the sweeping Jindal education agenda approved by the Legislature in spring 2012. He also noted that there’s added confusion because much of that agenda is being litigated in court.

“We’ve have to have counsel look at the strategic plan and make recommendations as to what’s practical and what’s not,” Tatman said.

The draft plan and supporting documents are posted on the school system’s website at http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/ebrstrategicplan/.