School revamp explained

As he did in November, East Baton Rouge Parish school Superintendent Bernard Taylor on Wednesday stood in the cafeteria of Capitol Elementary, explaining his idea to eliminate the attendance zones for public schools in the surrounding area and allow all of them to compete against each other for students.

The plan would reconfigure four schools — Capitol and Park elementaries, Capitol Middle and Capitol High — giving all of them different grades than they currently have, making them into “grade centers.” All four schools would get new leaders and would rehire all their teachers.

Four more nearby schools — Belfair, Howell Park, Melrose and Claiborne elementaries — will appear on the choice menu.

“I see this as an opportunity,” Taylor said. “A challenge, but an opportunity.”

Taylor warned that the status quo is untenable.

“This is a chance to determine your own destiny,” he said. “Otherwise, your destiny will be determined by others who will not be part of the community and may not have your best interests at heart.”

Taylor said he plans to seek the School Board’s approval in February and the plans would be in place for the start of the 2013-14 school year.

Taylor is laying out his change plans for four areas of Baton Rouge. He started with the Capitol region and will continue on to Glen Oaks, Scotlandville and Woodlawn over the next two weeks.

Each region is named after the high school of the same name, and the boundaries of the regions, though not firmed up, are supposed to mirror the current attendance zones of those four schools.

Pearl Porter, a longtime parent activist, bemoaned the lack of parents in attendance, saying there were hardly any present. She said the school system needs to do more to engage parents if these changes are going to work.

As far as what Taylor presented Wednesday, Porter said she’s confused.

“I’ve come to two of these meetings now, and I’m still trying to see how this works,” she said.

Carolyn Hill, the area’s representative on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said she liked how community-focused Taylor’s plan is. She said she has not received many calls from residents about it one way or another.

Many in the audience of about 90 people were teachers who could be displaced by the changes. A large contingent of teachers were from nearby Park Elementary, which would be much different than it is now. None of the teachers approached by The Advocate, though, would speak on the record.

The faculties at Capitol and Park elementaries and at Capitol Middle were informed of the plans Wednesday prior to the community forum.

Taylor predicted that School Board members would receive immediate pushback from people whose jobs may be in jeopardy. He said he has a more important constituency, the children.

“In the end, our obligation is that the children in the Capitol family have an opportunity for a quality education as close to home as they want to be,” he said.

Here are Taylor’s proposed changes by school:

  • Expand Capitol High to include eighth grade, but not seventh grade as originally proposed.
  • Rename Park Elementary to “Capitol at Park,” making it a school serving only seventh-graders. Park is next door to Capitol High.
  • Convert Capitol Middle school to “Capitol Intermediate School,” serving grades three to six.
  • Shrink Capitol Elementary from a traditional elementary to “Capitol Lower,” a school serving students from pre-kindergarten to second grade.
  • Convert Claiborne Elementary into a dedicated or “schoolwide” magnet school called “Forest Heights at Claiborne,” sending many of its 800 students to surrounding traditional schools.

Taylor is setting aside his original plans to also convert Melrose Elementary into a magnet school.

Here is the schedule for the remaining three community forums:

  • Glen Oaks High, 6 p.m. Thursday.
  • Scotlandville High, 6 p.m. Jan. 31.
  • Southeast Middle, 6 p.m. Feb. 5.