How to Improve North BR Schools Debated

Dec 11, 2012

A lot of different ideas are being tried out to improve schools in north Baton Rouge. The civic group Better Baton Rouge brought together some of the major players Monday night to discuss the path to educational excellence.

In impoverished north Baton Rouge, Broderick Bagert of Together Baton Rouge says the deck is stacked against public schools trying to score well on the state’s grading scale based on student testing.

“In this neighborhood, if a school’s getting a B, they’re doing extraordinary things that need to be understood and copied and mirrored and held up," says Bagert, "because a lot of educational performance on the really rough standard of standardized tests happens inside of the household, not inside of the school.”

Patrick Dobard, superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District, says Louisiana has plenty of examples of high-poverty schools that are also high-performing. He points to charter high school Sci Academy in New Orleans where he says 98 percent of the class of 2012 got into college.

“All of these kids -- or the majority of them -- were two or three grade levels behind when they started. Those children will now be in college competing against suburban healthy kids who have a head start. But these kids caught them," Dobard says.

The RSD is executing plans to turn around five schools in north Baton Rouge by getting independent charter operators to run them starting in 2013.

Bernard Taylor, superintendent of the parish school system, is skeptical. He says it’s just savvy parents who are taking advantage of opportunities for their children like charter schools.

“Some of the children who have benefited from these reforms are not the most academically in need," says Taylor.

Taylor is floating his own plan to let students choose any school within certain attendance regions, three of which would surround the high schools in north Baton Rouge.  

Taylor and all the participants in Monday’s discussion agreed to collaborate on a unified effort to improve education here.

But, Caroline Roemer Shirley, head of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, wanted some ground rules.  

“Recognize that all children learn differently and that we should empower families with real choice, and not say only this type of choice, but choice," Shirley says.

Shirley includes private schools and homeschooling on that list.