Open teacher slots still a moving target in EBR

Even after holding two teacher job fairs in recent days, including one in Pittsburgh, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system still has roughly 50 vacant teaching positions nearly two weeks into the 2014-15 school year.

Even so, Millie Williams, executive director for human resources, told the School Board on Thursday she plans to stop hiring soon.

“We are putting a halt on hiring until next week until we do some shifting, which I know we will have to do,” she said.

A few schools are overstaffed because of less-than-anticipated enrollment, so teachers are likely to be moved from those schools to fill vacancies at other schools, she said.

Williams pronounced the Pittsburgh fair held last Saturday as a success, saying the school system has contracts with 18 teachers who attended the event.

“We met quite a few certified and qualified teachers and they were very interested in coming to East Baton Rouge Parish,” Williams said.

Finding enough certified teachers for East Baton Rouge Parish schools, however, remains a moving target, and vacancies continue to pop up. Williams said that on Aug. 13, two days after the start of the school year, she had more than 60 teaching vacancies. Two days later, she had 101.

The August list of personnel changes, released earlier this week, shows a lot of teacher movement compared to mid-July. The list shows 125 teachers and instructional personnel resigned or retired, 236 were newly hired and 48 were reassigned from other jobs in the school system.

The School Board on Thursday also debated how seriously to view a substantial drop in the school district’s average scores on the ACT college placement exam among last year’s graduating seniors.

ACT became mandatory starting with the class of 2013 but the class of 2014 was the first where all graduates ended up taking the test. The latest results for the state and individual school districts were released Wednesday.

The composite score for East Baton Rouge declined from 18.3 to 17.9, compared to a slightly smaller drop in the statewide composite score from 19.5 to 19.2. The biggest drop in the school system was in reading, while science scores showed a slight improvement.

The school system, however, saw 10.7 percent increase in test-takers compared to an 8.5 percent increase statewide. Compared to 2012, the year before ACT was made mandatory, the number of test-takers in the parish school system has grown by 57.5 percent. Statewide, the increase from 2012 was almost 34 percent.

Even with the increase in test-takers, School Board member Barbara Freiberg said she is not satisfied with the latest results. She said East Baton Rouge Parish is still underperforming and should be at or above the state average.

“It seems like people would have been better prepared than they were two years ago,” Freiberg said.

Superintendent Bernard Taylor disagreed. He said making the ACT mandatory prompted substantial changes in high school course offerings and preparation, but that takes awhile to bear fruit. He also noted that while ACT are “high stakes” for educators, they don’t mean much to students unless the students are college bound.

“To realistically expect every school district to do this in two years is unrealistic,” Taylor said.

Taylor also said that when broken down by racial groups, the ACT scores show East Baton Rouge Parish students outperforming their peers across the state.

Chief Accountability Officer Lizabeth Frischhertz said the class of 2015 looks to outperform the class of 2014.

“We have a strong group so we look forward to what’s going to happen next year,” Frischhertz said.

School Board member Tarvald Smith said he shares some of Freiberg’s concerns and suggests high schools push more students to take ACT prep courses.

“I’m tired of sitting at graduations and seeing how many kids are not getting TOPS (scholarships),” Smith said. “That’s free money.”