The state’s push to revive troubled public schools in north Baton Rouge amounts to forming a breakaway school district that is likely to grow, a report says.
The seven schools that make up the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone “will essentially be a separate school system” within the East Baton Rouge Parish school setup with major financial and other implications, the study says.
“Eventually 20 or 30 schools could become members of the Achievement Zone,” according to the review, which was done for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.
The seven are Dalton Elementary; Crestworth, Glen Oaks, Lanier and Prescott middle schools; and Istrouma and Capitol high schools.
All of the schools are run by the state as part of the Recovery School District.
They were taken over after years of academic failure and, for most, put back under state control after being run by charter school operators who failed to make needed improvements.
The schools, much like failed public schools in New Orleans years ago, are getting increasing attention from private groups and state school leaders.
State Superintendent of Education John White has been calling for sweeping changes in troubled Baton Rouge public schools since November.
The issue also surfaced during a miniretreat held last week by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
BESE members were shown data that nearly two-thirds of the parish’s failing schools, with about 12,000 students, are located in a handful of ZIP codes north of Florida Boulevard, but excluding the Central, Zachary and Baker school districts.
The latest plan is designed to make enough improvements in the schools this year that top-flight charter operators will want to run them starting with the 2013-14 school year.
“It is much like New Orleans,” RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said. “It is about governance and basically empowering educators.”
The Achievement Zone also got considerable attention in the report, which was done by Jim Richardson, alumnus professor of economics at LSU, and Roy Heidelberg, visiting researcher at the school.
While public schools in New Orleans have struggled for years, many in Baton Rouge are not far behind.
The report noted that 53 of 76 schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system earned a D or F from the state last year.
“This means that 70 percent of the total schools in EBRPSS (East Baton Rouge Parish school system) are classified as failing schools by the Department of Education compared to 44 percent statewide,” the report says.
Earlier this year, a bid to carve out a new school district in southeast Baton Rouge — the fourth of its kind — narrowly failed in the Legislature amid heavy opposition from parish school leaders.
But Richardson’s report said the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone “will be the equivalent of creating a temporary breakaway school district,” and one that will cost the East Baton Rouge Parish school system state and local tax revenue and potentially hamper efforts to finance health care costs for retirees and bond costs.
The push to improve north Baton Rouge schools includes private partners, including New Schools Baton Rouge, Stand for Children and Teach for America.
Chris Meyer, who heads New Schools Baton Rouge, said his group hopes to raise $30 million, create 12,000 “excellent” classroom seats and add 500 teachers in the next five years.
Rayne Martin, executive director of Stand for Children, said her group hopes to recruit parents to lead “school teams” to advocate for improvements and play lead roles in attracting quality charter school operators.
“There is lost opportunity if you cannot get the community to drive some of these things,” Martin said of school turnaround efforts.
Teach for America has about 30 members in schools in the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone and alumni as well, said Michael Tipton, executive director of Teach for America South Louisiana.
Tipton said the group plans to help recruit principals, assistant principals and other educators nationwide to join the effort.
Teach for America is a national group that recruits college graduates, puts them through intense training and then sends them to troubled public schools.