Taylor wants four school regions

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Thursday suggested dividing 36 public schools in Baton Rouge into four attendance regions where students could choose to attend any school in the region.

The plan, in part a response to a push by some to create other, separate community school systems similar to Baker, Zachary and Central, would expand school and educational program choices available to families.

Three regions would be created in north Baton Rouge and one in southeast Baton Rouge, Taylor said.

Taylor said he’d like to expand the educational programs available to families in the four regions, including offering new magnet and gifted programs, as well as other programs with attractive themes that would be open to all students.

“We have to give more people in more parts of the parish choices,” Taylor told an audience at Claiborne Elementary School.

Taylor said he wants the community’s help in figuring out what the added choices should be and announced he will hold four community meetings next week.

The meetings will be held starting at 6 p.m. Monday at Capitol Elementary.

Other meetings are set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Scotlandville High, 6 p.m. Wednesday at Woodlawn High and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Glen Oaks High.

Taylor names each region by the high schools that serve the larger communities involved: Capitol, Scotlandville, Woodlawn and Glen Oaks.

He said the regional approach is a “pilot” project, adding that he would look at expanding it to other parts of the parish over time.

He said he would not get rid of current “choice” programs, but wants parents to have more options available closer to home.

“One’s ZIP code should not determine one’s access to programming,” he said.

Taylor’s proposal would offer the most choice at the elementary level where there are more schools than in the upper grades.

Taylor described his ideas as a “framework for discussion” and said parents at affected schools will have an opportunity at the community meetings to offer their thoughts on the educational programs they’d like to see in their schools.

He said he wants discussion, not divisive debates or histrionics.

“We will not be having any Jerry Springer moments at these forums,” he said.

Thursday’s event at Claiborne Elementary was a belated welcome party for Taylor who took over as superintendent in June after spending six years as superintendent of Grand Rapids, Mich.

The School Board charged Taylor to work on mending long-strained relations with the state Department of Education, particularly the state-run Recovery School District, which oversees eight low-performing schools that were formerly operated by the parish school system.

In April, the state rechristened seven of its eight schools as an Achievement Zone.

RSD leaders asked the school system to place many of its north Baton Rouge schools in the zone as well, saying that those schools could receive extra financial help from a $30 million fund that private business leaders are trying to raise for the Achievement Zone.

Taylor has been negotiating for months with state leaders about joining the Achievement Zone.

He said he hopes RSD will participate in his proposal, that the two organizations will be less competitive and more collaborative.

He said he foresees creating a market in which RSD schools located in the regions he’d like to establish would be promoted alongside East Baton Rouge parish schools.

“What we don’t want to see anymore is people going, ‘Oh that school is in RSD, we don’t want to go there,’” he said.

Taylor said that while he still hopes that the RSD will embrace his ideas, he can’t wait any longer to make changes.

Once he holds the community meetings, Taylor said, he plans to present a “district reconstitution plan” for the affected schools to the School Board at the end of November.

Once approved by the School Board, he plans to take it to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to seek its approval.

The creation of an attendance zone in the Woodlawn area appears aimed at cooling the fervor in that area for breaking away from the parish school system and creating another separate school district in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Southeast Baton Rouge district backers came within four votes of passing legislation that could have led to the creation of a school district in the area, and have pledged to try again in 2013.

By creating attractive program offerings in north Baton Rouge, Taylor said, he hopes to ease overcrowding in southeast Baton Rouge schools and to allow those schools more room to develop their own education choices.

Taylor said he will judge choices suggested during the forums based on whether there is evidence that they have the potential to improve students achievement and are financially feasible.

He said he plans to pay close attention to what is said, and hopes others will too.

“It’s up to leaders to listen,” he said.