RSD leaders tout EBR school improvements

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Kenyatta Drake, left, whose son Karey, 7, is a second grader at Dalton Elementary, is thanked for her questions by  Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard, right, after a parent meeting Wednesday at the school. Behind Dobard, at right, is Cay Kimbrell, RSD chief of staff for external affairs. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Kenyatta Drake, left, whose son Karey, 7, is a second grader at Dalton Elementary, is thanked for her questions by Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard, right, after a parent meeting Wednesday at the school. Behind Dobard, at right, is Cay Kimbrell, RSD chief of staff for external affairs.

Leaders of the state-run Recovery School District kicked off on Wednesday the first of seven parent meetings in Baton Rouge, telling an audience of about 50 people at Dalton Elementary that the school is improving and will be even better in the future when it becomes a charter school.

“I think they are doing a really good job at improving the culture and the stability of the school,” RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard said, particularly praising Principal Marilyn Taylor, who started last summer.

Dobard, however, cautioned that the academic results won’t be clear until the results of standardized tests administered last week are released in May.

Dobard said that Taylor is well aware that she is a “transformational figure,” whose job is to prepare the chronically low-performing elementary school for what’s next, a “high quality” charter school — a public school, run privately.

The state is seeking applicants now to take over Dalton and six other north Baton Rouge public schools in fall 2014, and, failing that, “no later than 2015,” Dobard said.

The application deadline is May 1.

State Rep. Alfred C. Williams, D-Baton Rouge, questioned that strategy, saying he too has heard good things about Taylor and her management of the school.

“There’s evidence that this is working for these kids,” Williams said. “Why change?”

Dobard responded, “Working is fine, but we want to be better than working.”

Dobard said any charter management group that comes in is likely to recognize good teachers at Dalton and keep them.

Kenyatta Drake was one of a handful of parents who remained in the Dalton auditorium after an awards ceremony at the school to hear Dobard and others speak.

Drake sought assurances that Dobard would not be changing leaders and teachers at Dalton.

“There is no plan to have a mass change of staff,” Dobard said, though he said all staff are undergoing performance evaluations.

After the meeting, Drake said her son Karey, 6, started at Dalton last year when it was run by the now-defunct charter school group Advance Baton Rouge, and loved his teacher only to see that teacher leave.

“He was devastated,” Drake recalled.

After her attempts to get into magnet schools in Baton Rouge failed, Drake decided to give Taylor and her new staff at Dalton a chance and has come to like what’s happening. But she said Karey is a smart boy who loves schools and needs a challenge. She suggested that Dalton add a gifted program, something she remembers from when she was in elementary school.

“I want him to be pushed to his limit,” Drake said.

When questioned about adding a gifted program to Dalton, Dobard told the audience that he will look at the school’s budget and said it may be possible.

The seven RSD schools in north Baton Rouge were formerly operated by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system and were taken over for chronic, low academic performance. Six of them were initially run as charter schools, but those charters were ended in 2011 and 2012 at which time the state hired new principals and teachers. Istrouma High was taken over in summer 2012, making it the seventh RSD school in north Baton Rouge.

RSD is holding six more parent meetings over the next month, with a second meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lanier Elementary.

Here is the schedule for the remaining five meetings:

  • Glen Oaks Middle, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 24.
  • Crestworth Middle, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 25
  • Capitol High, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 1
  • Istrouma High, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 2
  • Prescott Middle, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 16 (at Istrouma High campus)