Delmont, Mayfair clear of state takeover threat
Months after publicly denouncing the move, the state Department of Education quietly reversed course Thursday and recognized the closure of Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle last year and their rebirth as new schools this school year.
The surprise reversal also means those campuses, one in north, one in south Baton Rouge, are no longer in danger of state takeover. The state already has taken over eight low-performing schools in the parish and placed them in the state-run Recovery School District.
East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor, who said he didn’t know that the state had reconsidered its stance, credited ongoing talks between the state and the school system, where school officials slowly allayed concerns.
“There was nothing surreptitious,” Taylor said. “We were just trying to improve student achievement.”
The decision recognizes, well after the fact, that Delmont is now an early childhood center, and Mayfair is a small, selective elementary school modeled after LSU Lab School. Until May, Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle had earned F grades for four years in a row, the trigger for possible state takeover.
In July and again in August, State Superintendent John White rejected requests from the parish school system to give Delmont and Mayfair new site codes, which would restart the accountability clock and erase the schools’ F grades.
In those cases, White wrote detailed letters to East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor explaining his reasons for rejection.
“The plan to relocate hundreds of children from open enrollment schools and to create selective enrollment schools in the facilities thus does not constitute a plan for improvement for the children originally served by Mayfair and Delmont,” White wrote in an Aug. 22 denial letter to Taylor.
Taylor maintained that all the students who were at Mayfair and Delmont last year were reassigned to higher performing schools this year. White responded that 14 percent of the children at those two schools ended up at F-rated schools.
On Thursday afternoon, the news about the changed position was shared in a much less dramatic manner, in a phone exchange between systems analysts with the state and the school system.
Afterwards, the school system’s system analyst, Helen Dedon, quickly sent out a short email to Taylor and top administrators informing them that, at long last, and without explanation, the state was issuing the long awaited site codes: Delmont PreK and Kindergarten Center, 017143; and Mayfair Lab, 017144.
The news spread quickly. Thursday night, the school system sent letters home to parents at both schools, many of whom were active in the effort to change White’s mind.
“As parents, we are thrilled with this news to say the least,” said Robin Mangum, who has a child in third grade at Mayfair.
White did not return a phone message Friday afternoon seeking an explanation for the change.
“I frankly don’t care whether there’s an explanation or not,” said Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the parish school system.
Rutledge said he thinks the most important factors were the continued academic improvement in the parish school system which has improved for six straight years, the involvement of LSU with Mayfair and Southern University with Delmont, as well as a meeting last month featuring parents and supporters of both schools and attended by local BESE representatives Carolyn Hill and Chaz Roemer.
Rutledge acknowledged that the school system’s hiring of outside attorneys, along with the implicit threat of litigation, probably played a part, but the other factors were more important.
Rutledge thanked White for reconsidering his earlier stance.
“Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully this can serve as a springboard for the kind of communication that should occur between the state and a school district,” Rutledge said.
Hill said she is “pleased and elated” by the decision.
“This was the right thing to do, not just for policy and procedure reasons, but it was the right thing to do for our children,” Hill said.