EBR school chief to ask restructuring plan OK

East Baton Rouge Parish school system's  blue and white logo. Show caption
East Baton Rouge Parish school system's blue and white logo.

After more than a month of delay, East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor is asking the School Board on Thursday night to move forward with pieces of his ambitious school restructuring plan and plans to bring more of it forward in April.

For the moment, Taylor is asking only that two schools, Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle, both in danger of state takeover for chronic low academic performance, be restructured in advance of the 2013-14 school year, which starts in August. Delmont would shift from an elementary school to a pre-kindergarten center, while Mayfair would become a “laboratory school” modeled after LSU Lab School.

Taylor has for months floated plans to remake schools in four parts of town into “attendance regions” with each having what he called a “family of schools” at the center that would offer families a variety of options and choices.

Taylor is asking the School Board on Thursday to approve only one of those, for the Scotlandville “family of schools.”

A key aspect of the new structure is that middle and elementary schools would compete against each other for students. So three elementary schools in the Scotlandville area — Crestworth, Progress and Ryan elementaries — would cease to have attendance zones and families could choose which one works best for their children.

Plans for the other regions, Capitol, Glen Oaks and Woodlawn, remain on the shelf for now.

Taylor also wants the School Board to approve changes in alternative schools, including the creation of a “Superintendents Academy” on the campus of the former Beechwood Elementary. Students older than their peers and in need of special help and accelerated classes would be invited to attend the special school.

The School Board plans to meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at the School Board Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive, to discuss Taylor’s plans.

The proposed school changes, which the board has not discussed previously, were posted online late Tuesday on the school system’s website with only brief descriptions.

In an interview late Wednesday, Taylor said he hopes to release additional information before the meeting starts. He said he has talked to nine of 11 School Board members about his proposals and wants to first talk to the other two he has not yet reached.

“There’s nothing new here,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he intends to move forward with the “family of schools” proposals for the Capitol and Glen Oaks regions in April, with the goal of implementing them in time for the start of the 2013-14 school year. He said it will take more time to address the Woodlawn area. He said he needs to better address concerns of residents there, some of whom are supporting an effort to turn the area into an independent school district.

Starting with a series of community forums in November, Taylor announced he was looking to convert as many as 36 schools into attendance regions, and to restructure many of those schools into regionwide schools with a more-traditional focus, specialized magnet programs or charter schools.

He also laid out plans for Capitol High, Crestworth Middle and Glen Oaks Middle schools. All are former East Baton Rouge Parish schools now under the control of the state, specifically its Recovery School District, or RSD.

Since starting as superintendent in June, Taylor has been in on-and-off discussion with state and RSD leaders, seeking greater say in what the state is going to do with Baton Rouge public schools it has taken over.

He he informed the School Board in early February that the “family of schools” proposals, with the exception of Woodlawn, were ready, but then pulled them at the last minute, saying he was still trying to work things out with state leaders.

Taylor said Wednesday that Capitol High School is the only RSD school he is still talking with state leaders about including in the “family of schools” for that area.

Throughout, Taylor has released his proposal bit by bit through copies of Powerpoint presentations, discussion at public meetings and in interviews. He has yet to release publicly a comprehensive written plan, even in draft form.

Employees at some of the affected schools in some regions have waited months to see if they would have new principals and would have to reapply for their jobs.

Taylor acknowledged the unusual way the plans have developed, saying it’s been far from a “coherent process” and there are too many “interested parties that have to be satisfied.” He also noted the difficulty in trying to reach common ground with the state.

“It’s taken a lot more time than I thought it would,” he said.