Focus groups trust principals, but not EBR School Board

Eighteen East Baton Rouge Parish parents, split between those with children in public schools and those in private schools, told researchers they trust principals most to improve the public school system, but none trust the School Board.

The parents were divided into two focus groups, held about a month ago. They spent more than an hour answering questions posed by SCI Research and Consulting in Baton Rouge.

SCI was hired by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber as it prepares legislation that would restructure the parish school system. The participants were randomly selected and solicited via email and phone.

BRAC released a summary of the focus group discussions Tuesday.

Focus groups lack the statistical validity of an opinion poll, said Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of BRAC, but they allow researchers to have deeper discussions with participants. Knapp said chamber members were interested in getting a better feel for what parents think.

“We thought, let’s just declutter and see what people think about public education,” Knapp said.

The chamber has developed nine principles to undergird the legislation it’s formulating, and giving principals more autonomy is a key feature.

Knapp said that principle came out strongly in the focus groups.

None of the 18 participants trusted the School Board, while 10 of the 18 trusted principals to lead improvements. Three more parents said they’d agree if principals were given more power.

“I’ve been in schools where the principals and vice principals can stick their heads in the hallway and behavior immediately changes in the classrooms,” one parent said.

Another striking finding is how both public and private school parents in the focus groups were nearly identical in their low ratings of the school system.

Public school parents were somewhat satisfied with their own children’s schools, while private school parents were somewhat negative about the public school closest to them.

“I don’t know that my child will go to the school in my neighborhood,” said one private school parent. “I hear a lot about violence and weapons in that school.”

The focus group is at odds some with public opinion polls SCI conducted for five years for the school system; the polls were discontinued in 2012. In those polls, adults with children in the school system were much more positive about the system than respondents who didn’t have children in public schools.