State denies plan for two EBR schools to avoid takeover

The state on Thursday shot down an East Baton Rouge Parish school system proposal to reconfigure two low-performing schools, a move aimed at averting a state takeover.
The state Department of Education did agree to changes proposed for 13 other Baton Rouge public schools.
Superintendent Bernard Taylor, however, said he intends to proceed with the changes at Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle schools that were approved by the parish School Board for the 2013-14 school year that begins Aug. 12.
In the meantime, Taylor said he plans to present additional information justifying the changes and will ask the state to reconsider the denials. Failing that, he said he will appeal the denials - but he's not sure what agency would hear the appeal.
"I thought we were doing what we were supposed to do, which is to close schools that were failing and move the students to better schools," Taylor said.
State Superintendent John White laid out his reasons for rejecting the Delmont and Mayfair requests in a letter Thursday to Taylor.
"The schools have both earned academically unacceptable status and ‘F' letter grades for the past three years," White wrote. "The proposed plan includes nothing regarding improvement for students affected and instead forcibly moves hundreds of them to different school sites with no guarantee of admission to a school with a strong track record."
Taylor is the architect of the proposal that includes converting Delmont from a traditional elementary school to a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten school with most of its older students moving to Winbourne Elementary.
Mayfair Middle will convert to an elementary school, starting with grades kindergarten to second grade. It will be operated via a contract with LSU Lab School. Mayfair's Middle school students are being reassigned to other nearby middle schools.
White goes on to say the changes proposed by Taylor seek "to expunge the records of struggles" by students at these schools and avoid responsibility brought on by the state's accountability system.
Taylor disagreed, pointing out that the schools that Delmont and Mayfair students will transfer to have stronger academic scores.
"This is based on erroneous information," he said of White's statements.
The school system was seeking permission to close both schools and obtain new site codes for them. If approved, Delmont and Mayfair would have started fresh with new school performance scores.
The rejection of those requests, however, means that the new schools Taylor is creating will be saddled with the low scores of the past.
Consequently, the state can seek to take over both campuses this school year and place them in the state's Recovery School District.
The seven schools RSD runs in Baton Rouge have all struggled since their takeover, undergoing many leadership and personnel changes. The state is seeking charter schools to operate them as early as fall 2014.
Taylor has been unapologetic in proposing changes at schools to avoid state takeover, pointing to RSD's poor track record with the schools it has taken over. Taylor and White clashed publicly on this issue in April at a legislative hearing over a plan, later revised, to move gifted students from Glen Oaks Park to Merrydale elementary school to improve scores at Merrydale.
The news was not all bad for Taylor on Thursday. Here are the 13 school changes the state did approve:
<span class="Advocate Bullet Resizer">n</span> Closing Scotlandville Elementary and Wyandotte Early Childhood Center.
<span class="Advocate Bullet Resizer">n</span> New site codes for Beechwood, Eden Park, Glen Oaks High and Christa McAuliffe schools. All except Glen Oaks High are becoming alternative schools known as superintendent academies
<span class="Advocate Bullet Resizer">n</span> New names for Northdale Academy, Staring Education Center and Valley Park School; all three are also becoming superintendent academies. Northdale and Valley Park also were approved for new grade configurations, and Valley Park is getting a new address.
<span class="Advocate Bullet Resizer">n</span> New grade configuration for Belfair and Winbourne elementary schools.
<span class="Advocate Bullet Resizer">n</span> Address changes for Lee High and Scotlandville Middle schools.