Questions swirl around late nomination of EBR school for national honor

State education officials belatedly nominated a public elementary school in Baton Rouge for the prestigious Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award Thursday, leaving the school just eight days to complete the involved application, while four other eligible Louisiana schools had weeks to complete theirs.

The sudden nomination came the same day The Advocate posed questions to the Louisiana Department of Education asking why Parkview Elementary had been left off the nominee list that the state previously submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

The Parkview nomination came 10 days after two state representatives asked for public records justifying the delay.

A spokesman for the state agency, Barry Landry, extended congratulations to the Parkview community for “outstanding results.”

Landry acknowledged the state nominated four schools on Feb. 21, but waited three more weeks to submit Parkview.

“There was one issue that needed to be resolved,” Landry said. “It was resolved, so they were in,” adding he doesn’t know what the holdup issue was.

Landry said Parkview also is being nominated as a high-performing school in math at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in New Orleans in April.

The Blue Ribbon time line for this year called for states to submit their nominees to the U.S. Department of Education by Jan. 10.

The deadline for schools to complete the application is March 21. The winners will be announced in September.

Late nominees from states are Laccepted, but the March 21 application deadline is fixed, said David Thomas, a spokesman for the federal education agency.

“For the integrity of the program we keep the deadline firm,” Thomas said. “There will be no extension.”

The four other schools Louisiana nominated Feb. 21 are: Joseph J. Davies Elementary School, in Meraux; Rosepine High School, Rosepine; Tchefuncte Middle School, Mandeville; and West Leesville Elementary School, Leesville.

Louisiana can nominate as many as six schools a year.

Blue Ribbon School of Excellence honors go to schools that either are among the top performing in the country or have shown significant progress in improving student achievement.

In its 31-year history, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has honored about 7,500 of America’s schools.

Nine are part of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, a fact the system routinely trumpets in its promotional materials. Parkview, if it were to get a Blue Ribbon, would make that 10.

School Superintendent Bernard Taylor declined to point fingers when asked about the matter Thursday. He said district staff will work overtime to make sure Parkview Elementary can gather the extensive information required to complete the application.

“I don’t know why this happened,” Taylor said. “I’ll leave that for others to figure out.”

State Reps. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and Alfred C. Williams, D-Baton Rouge, have been trying to do just that.

“I’m glad they realized the school deserves this recognition,” Smith said. “I’m still waiting to find out more information about why they were left off.”

In a March 3 letter to Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, the lawmakers questioned the exclusion of the A-rated Parkview Elementary.

They wondered whether it was connected to the “outright antagonism” they’ve observed between White and the parish school system.

“Never could we have imagined that such antagonism and indifference would extend to the hard work of the children, families, faculty and staff of (Parkview),” they wrote.

The lawmakers requested documents, including emails sent and received by White, 10 other subordinates of White’s, as well as Chas Roemer, president of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Smith and Williams said they received a response earlier this week from a state attorney who said he is reviewing the documents.

Smith and Williams are former East Baton Rouge Parish School Board members and both serve on the House Education Committee. They have criticized White’s office many times before.

On Jan. 15, they participated in a news conference that blamed White for failing to quell speculation that the parish school system was being audited for a cheating scandal when the audit focused strictly on potential discrepancies in student graduation records.

Smith went so far as to suggest it was a “plot” engineered by the department and supporters of the St. George incorporation effort to embarrass the parish public-school system.

Williams said Thursday that Parkview Elementary, 5660 Parkforest Drive, is located within the proposed St. George school district. He said he suspects the exclusion of Parkview is connected with the St. George debate.

“It sure would look bad for a Blue Ribbon school to come out of an area where the schools are supposedly so bad,” Williams said.

Shenandoah Elementary, which is down the road from Parkview, earned its Blue Ribbon award in 2006; it also is located in the proposed St. George district. McKinley Middle School was the ninth Baton Rouge public school to earn a blue ribbon, in fall 2012.