The quest for Baton Rouge to find a new superintendent of schools is underway. What does that mean for our community? With St. George as a real possibility of eventually being incorporated into a city the question is even more important than before. If St. George is approved through the courts after current litigation and an eventual school district that means millions of dollars will leave the East Baton Rouge Parish School system. So who becomes the next superintendent of schools in this parish is something every parent should be watching.
Warren Drake the current superintendent of schools by all accounts is a good man. He has done what most would say is a moderate job with the school system. Here in this column I’ve called for him to resign or be fired before now, because moderate can’t be the standard. Drake came from Zachary Public Schools, in the northern portion of the parish. Zachary was then and is now the top school district in the state of Louisiana, for some that gave them the impression he would be a great superintendent for EBR Schools. The proof is in our school scores. Drake managed a small district, with a more affluent population of people, and was able to produce. The truth is, most superintendents would do well in Zachary. EBR Schools is different in size, it is one of the largest school districts in the state, and mostly black. Zachary was different. So why did the district pick Warren Drake?
Most believe it was an attempt to help avoid St. George, by giving white conservative voters who live in south east Baton Rouge a superintendent they could relate to. Now that we are here, and have had years of Drake and voters still pushed to create a new city we have to deal with reality. The next superintendent will likely have to figure out at some point how to manage whatever that transition looks like if or when it takes place. I’ve heard it said, if a district happens for St. George it will be years from now — I’ve come to realize those years are here before you know it and failing to truly prepare I think is how we got here.
We need three things from the next superintendent to start.
- We need a superintendent who is committed to protecting the interest of those who attend East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools. If St. George happens thousands of students will no longer attend EBR schools and the facilities in that portion of our community will have to be sold. With these changes and millions of dollars removed from the district drastic changes will happen. Parents should be engaged now to ensure the next superintendent is focused on making sure that all resources due to the district are paid for, including any legacy cost. These cost will impact the stability of the district, and you don’t wait until it happens to get ready for what could happen. The superintendent needs to have a plan for addressing what EBR Schools looks like if St. George becomes a full reality and the public should be fully aware of what that plan is.
- We need a superintendent that understands educating black children in urban communities. There are cultural differences and income dynamics at play in EBR that don’t exist in every community. Having a superintendent focused on equity in investment in schools, and prioritizing under performing schools by shifting leaders and hiring the right talent to educate these children has to be a priority. As we look at the demographics of EBR, we must pick a leader that is prepared day one to shift the culture of education Baton Rouge. If the district is 80% black, and possibly getting blacker if St. George materializes the superintendent needs to understand how to reach that population and their families.
- We need a superintendent with a clear vision for EBR schools, a plan that is equitable not equal. When we talk about equity, we have to recognize when someone isn’t at the same starting point. Equality is giving everyone the same thing. That sounds good, but if I give the same amount to someone who has less than me, do we end up equal after the transaction? No, and so it is with resourcing schools, teachers, and students. We must see that a student or school that is further behind needs the most investment from the school district. What we have seen in the last decade is, Schools like Baton Rouge High and Lee High two of the top performing high schools in Baton Rouge get mega investment from the district to the tune of $60 million a piece for new schools. While schools like Istrouma and Glen Oaks High get less than half of that for new schools. Both D schools, that have lost so much enrollment that middle schools are now located at both high schools and neither facility is completed while both Baton Rouge High and Lee High have had total makeovers to completion. This is problematic and is a window into how we got where we are. If we invest more in facilities we’ve already made an overall larger investment in students at top performing schools than we have in low performing. We must have a leader for EBR Schools that sees this as a problem and has a vision to address creating a more balanced path forward. One that equals first class facilities and education no matter what zip code your school is located in.
There are 5 or 6 other things we need in the next superintendent, but this is the beginning of a series of columns about the future of public education in Baton Rouge. If EBR schools doesn’t improve, the data in our community surrounding income gaps, crime, and opportunity will remain the same. Education is a pathway to success, that has the power to be a great equalizer. We must come together as parents, and citizens to help ensure the leaders of our public school system make a choice that moves us past moderate gains, to transformational outcomes that impact the lives of children. Too many children slip between the cracks, while we play politics with their futures. This changes, when we show up and get engaged.
Stay engaged for more information on the future of public education in East Baton Rouge Parish here at The Rouge Collection.