School Board to hear ‘strategic plan’ going public unveiled

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board is scheduled Wednesday to formally hear about a long set of recommendations on ways the parish school system can move from near the bottom to become one of the top 10 school districts in Louisiana by 2020.

A 33-member Committee for Educational Excellence, made up of local business and community leaders, developed a "strategic plan" throughout much of 2011 and released a draft version in December, but it has sat on the shelf ever since.

Wednesday night will be the official unveiling of this document to the School Board, 11 months after it was developed. The meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at the Professional Development Center, 3000 N. Sherwood Forest Blvd.

"I hope that board members will have an opportunity to clarify any particular parts of the plan they are unsure about," said Board President Barbara Freiberg, "and that the community will be able to have input into the various subsections of the plan."

Freiberg said the leaders of the citizens committee, with the help of school district staff, will then go back and consider if the strategic plan needs any changing.

The far-reaching document suggests giving principals greater say in the teachers they hire and more control of their school budgets and automatic firing of teachers whose students show the least test score growth. The document also suggests the firing of principals who fail to meet three-year performance goals, higher pay to teachers willing to work in struggling schools and greater openness to innovation and school choice.

The draft plan and supporting documents are posted on the school system's website, http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/ebrstrategicplan/.

A lengthy and contentious search for a new superintendent accounted for much of the 11-month delay in presenting the plan to the board. The School Board in March unanimously selected Bernard Taylor, who had led the Grand Rapids, Mich., school district.

Taylor, however, did not start work until mid-June. Late that month, the new superintendent sat down with the citizens committee and suggested four things that need further development in the document: Technology and how it should be used in instruction, career and college readiness, safety of school buildings and funding schools based on the needs of students.

The strategic plan has not been changed since.

Freiberg said Taylor remains concerned about some of the issues he raised in June, particularly the need to look more at the use of and access to instructional technology.

"I know technology is a burning issue to him, and he sees that as a huge void in the plan," Freiberg said.

While all 11 members of the board voted in early 2011 to develop a new strategic plan, only some board members, mostly new board members who were elected in 2010, have actively participated in its development.

Since the draft was released 11 months ago, much has changed in education in Louisiana.

The state Legislature this spring made sweeping changes, including tight restrictions on teacher tenure, possible firing of teachers who flunk a new test-score based teacher evaluation system, expansion of charter schools, and state funded vouchers that pay for children in eligible families to transfer from low-performing public schools to private and parochials schools.

The state Department of Education is also rolling out a more rigorous curriculum connected with educational standards adopted by 45 states and has made big changes in its school accountability system that will bring with them new standardized tests.

Freiberg said that the strategic plan draft does not conflict with most of those changes, but she hopes the discussion Wednesday will help clarify which parts of the plan are greater priorities and how they might be funded.

While the plan has sat idle for months, Freiberg said she and Taylor would like the board to move quickly. Having such a plan in place will help the superintendent in the near future as he lays out plans for improving low-performing schools in north Baton Rouge and ways to attract more middle-class families to enroll their children in public schools, Freiberg said.

"There is a rush," she said. "We need to take some actions on the direction of this district in many areas."