Taylor outlines Glen Oaks High idea

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor announced Thursday that he plans to split Glen Oaks High School into two separate schools, one a traditional public school, the other a charter school.

The high school changes are part of a larger proposal to remake dozens of schools throughout the parish in hopes of giving families in four regions more choices by allowing students to attend schools throughout a given region.

Taylor told an audience of about 100 people gathered in the Baton Rouge high school’s cafeteria that with the increase in competition unleashed by state government — new charter schools, private and parochial receiving vouchers from public school students, and online course choice, more schools in the parish school system will have to join in the competition.

“I don’t believe we can take any of our clientele for granted,” Taylor said. “There are too many other choices.”

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

As he did in November, Taylor is visiting each of the four “attendance regions” in a series of community meetings. He plans to hold a third meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Scotlandville High, and a fourth meeting at Southeast Middle, 6 p.m., Feb. 5.

Taylor spoke Thursday of his plans for the Glen Oaks region. It’s the most extensive of the four plans and was similar to a proposal he made for the area in November. The revised Glen Oaks plan would reconfigure eight schools in that section of north Baton Rouge. It would give the schools different grades than they currently have.

Seven of the schools would be “grade centers” and these schools would get new leaders and would rehire all their teachers.

Unlike a community forum Wednesday where many teachers were in attendance at Capitol Elementary, almost no teachers were present on Thursday. The school system scheduled a separate meeting at the same time Thursday for the faculty of the affected schools, many of whom may need to look for new jobs at other schools if their new school leaders do not rehire them.

“If you’re going to hold principals accountable, you have to give them say in picking their staffs,” Taylor said.

Taylor, however, pointed out that he is not “outsourcing” teachers to private providers and that those who will teach at the reconfigured schools will be people in the school system now.

“We have the people in this system who will not only make this a reality, but make it a success,” Taylor said.

Besides the new grade centers, Taylor is creating new magnet programs.

Taylor talked Thursday about expanding Belfair Elementary’s Montessori program from fifth grade to eighth grade and having its 200-plus neighborhood students choose from other elementary schools in the region. He said it’s unlikely that the neighborhood students would fit well into the Montessori program because that educational approach starts with children from a young age, but said he would be open to transfers of non-Montessori students into the Montessori program on a case-by-case basis.

Glen Oaks High would see a lot of change. Besides being split into two separate schools, seventh- and eighth-graders there now would move to Glen Oaks Middle, a school that Taylor said he is negotiating with the state-run Recovery School District to have returned to the parish school system.

The state took control of Glen Oaks Middle in 2008 after years of chronic low academic performance.

Taylor said he would hope that the twin schools that would operate at Glen Oaks High would be roughly the same in size, but that since they would compete for students, one could grow larger if it was more attractive.

Taylor also said he would seek to have the Louisiana High School Athletic Association allow students from the twin schools to compete on the same athletic teams, but offered the audience no guarantees that would occur.

After the meeting, Lloyd Northern and Wendell Mack, who both volunteer at the high school, were skeptical of splitting the high school in two.

“I think it’s a wait and see deal,” Northern said. “Like a snake with two heads.”

Mack said “somebody’s got to be in control.”

Shannon Rogers, a parent of a student at the high school, said the school does a poor job of disciplining the students and teachers get too little support from administrators. She wants to see that addressed in any changes Taylor makes.

“They just do not have control,” Rogers said. “The children run the school.”