BESE to tour state public schools

In an unusual move, members of Louisiana’s top school board are about to launch a statewide tour of public schools.

The first stops are Tuesday and Wednesday at eight schools in the Caddo and Bossier parishes school districts, which are in the northwestern part of the state.

Other stops are being planned around the state but details are still being worked out, Brodrick Hampton, communications manager for BESE, said Friday.

The visits come at a time of sweeping changes in the classroom, including new annual evaluations for public school teachers that have sparked controversy.

BESE President Chas Roemer, who came up with the plan, said it is not being driven by any single education change. “We have initiated a number of major reforms and the main purpose of our visits is to talk to educators, parents and kids to get firsthand feedback in each community,” he said.

“We get a lot of information at BESE board meetings but it is often second-hand or third-hand,” Roemer said.

“I want to get some direct feedback,” he added.

Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, said he hopes to visit every school district in the state in 2013, usually with BESE members who represent the area and some at-large panel members.

The Caddo and Bossier school stops are supposed to include BESE members Walter Lee, of Mansfield, an elected member and Connie Bradford, who lives in Ruston and is an at-large member as one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s three appointees on the 11-member panel.

The tour is unusual because, aside from individual school visits from time to time by BESE members, they do not typically make planned stops at any number of Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools.

Superintendents sometimes make a point of trying to visit every school district, and state Superintendent of Education John White visited dozens of districts in 2012 during his first year on the job.

Details of the tour are still being worked out.

Two BESE members, Carolyn Hill, who lives in Baton Rouge and Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge said Friday they were not aware of the plans.

Lee, an elected board member since 1991, said he is not aware of any concerted effort in the past by panel members to go to individual schools.

“It’s just an effort to kind of get a little better feeling of what is actually happening at the school level,” said Lee, who recently retired as superintendent of the DeSoto Parish school system.

Lee said he wants to hear “how the teachers feel their year is going and how they feel about teaching and some of the reform efforts.”

Bradford said in an email response to questions that the visits give BESE members a chance to see the “success and challenges” in schools and for teachers and others to interact with board members.

Michael Faulk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the Central school system, said he hopes BESE members “talk to the people teaching children who are dealing with the changes that have been made.”

The new teacher evaluations, which stem from a 2010 law, mean that half of the annual evaluation will be based on the growth of student achievement and half on classroom observations, mostly by principals.

Under the old system, all of the review stemmed from observations, which critics said resulted in nearly every teacher getting a “satisfactory” rating.

The four Bossier Parish school system schools set for visits include one school rated A by the state last year and three rated B.

The four schools on the Caddo Parish list include one with an A, two with with a D and one with an F.