F-Rated Schools Spark New Plans

Nearly one in 10 public school students attends an F-rated school in Louisiana, which is triggering a new push by state leaders to make improvements.

“It is a horrible situation that we need to correct,” said Jim Garvey, vice-president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The list of failing schools includes 20 of 85 in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, according to figures compiled by the state Department of Education.

About 9,000 students attend those low-performing schools, EBR officials said.

Three school districts — East Baton Rouge, Jefferson and Caddo — account for nearly one of every three F-rated schools.

State Superintendent of Education John White announced on Feb. 20 that new steps to improve schools with failing marks will be one of his five priorities for the 2013-14 school year.

He said 63,000 of the state’s 712,000 students statewide attend schools that earned a failing mark in the latest annual School Performance Scores, which are based mostly on how they fared on key tests.

White said he wants to expand partnerships with the schools using options like the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone, which includes seven troubled schools in north Baton Rouge; alliances with charter operators in the Jefferson and Lafayette school districts and a fund that would aid school districts willing to overhaul failing schools.

“We have got to eliminate F-rated schools in our state,” he told reporters earlier this month.

The superintendent, through a spokesman, declined to discuss details of the plan.

White said earlier that more information will be released in March.

The Lafayette school system has two schools rated F.

Garvey, whose BESE district includes about half of Jefferson Parish, said in the past the state has tried to ignore failing schools and, at other times, relied on state takeovers “which is not what BESE members want to do.”

Garvey, who is an attorney in Metairie, said the favored route would be for the state to provide troubled schools with more resources to make improvements “while keeping in our back pocket the ultimate big stick of taking over the schools.”

White, in comments earlier this month, said turning around F-rated schools is not just the job of the Recovery School District.

He said the task “requires innovators across the state.”

White said funding for troubled schools will not require an appropriation from the Legislature, which faces a $1.3 billion shortfall for the financial year that begins on July 1.

One possible partner for the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone is New Schools Baton Rouge, which is run by a former official of the state Department of Education.

“We have had conversations with numerous charter operators with proven track records,” said Chris Meyer, founder and chief executive officer of the group.

New Schools Baton Rouge calls itself a community partner that can bring talent and resources to troubled schools, such as the seven getting special attention in north Baton Rouge.

However, Meyer said the 2014-15 school year would be the first time any such alliances begin.

Schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system have made strides as the state’s minimum score to avoid sanctions has risen, said Lizabeth Frischhertz, the local system’s chief officer for accountability, assessment and evaluation.

Frischhertz said that, in 2009, 72 percent of district fourth-graders passed LEAP, an annual exam that measures math and English skills.

In 2012 the passage rate was 85 percent, she said.

“If we are narrowing the gap with the state we are doing something right,” Frischhertz said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said it took the state generations to get into a situation where 63,000 students attend F-rated schools.

“We want substantially better performance for the sake of the children,” Appel said. “But we recognize that will take some time.”