The Baton Rouge area can lay claim to the top four public school districts in Louisiana after new academic rankings were released Thursday, but its largest district, East Baton Rouge Parish, lost ground, mirroring the state as a whole.
Zachary tops the list as it has for the past decade since breaking away from the East Baton Rouge school system in 2003. Central, which broke off in 2007, is ranked second this year, up from fourth last year. Livingston Parish is third, leapfrogging Ascension Parish, which is in fourth place. West Feliciana Parish came in seventh, falling from its perch at second place last year. Rankings aside, all five districts improved their overall scores, ranging from 0.4 points in West Feliciana to 7 points in Livingston.
West Baton Rouge earned a B again this year and is ranked 21st, up from 35th last year.
East Baton Rouge Parish remains a C district even though its overall score fell some, causing it to slip from 44th to 57th place. That was largely the result of failing to earn progress points the state gives to schools that substantially increase the number of students performing below grade level to at or above grade level. Most school districts benefited greatly from progress points this year, though the state as a whole failed to earn progress points.
Also continuing with C ratings this year are East Feliciana and Iberville parishes. Pointe Coupee and the City of Baker fell from Cs to Ds this year, while St. Helena Parish remained a D.
The state-run Recovery School District, or RSD, which oversees a handful of schools in Baton Rouge, saw its Baton Rouge schools move collectively from an F to a D.
The rankings are district report cards for 73 school systems for the 2015-16 school year, which ended in May. The district scores were accompanied by school report cards for 1,318 individual public schools across Louisiana.
These report cards size up how public schools are doing academically, largely on the basis of standardized test scores for elementary and middle schools. At the high school level, they also measure graduation rates and the rigor of academic coursework.
Baton Rouge Magnet High School, the flagship school for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, ranks fourth highest in the state. It came in behind Ben Franklin High, Alice M. Harte Elementary and Lusher Charter, all in New Orleans. Baton Rouge Magnet is one of 10 A-rated public schools in the East Baton Rouge school district, several of them also magnet schools.
Public school students showed gains this year, but a big gap looms in meeting Louisiana's ne…
The parish school system, however, saw its F-rated schools grow from 10 to 13 this year. Six of them are alternative schools that remained F schools. Belaire High, North Banks Middle, Park Forest Middle, Delmont Pre-K and Kindergarten Center, and Winbourne Elementary schools are new to the academic cellar, slipping from Ds to Fs. J.K. Haynes Charter and South Baton Rouge Charter Academy went the other way, improving from Fs to Ds.
At Westdale Middle School, Principal Jeremy Couvillion has for days kept a note next to his computer on which is written the number 90.1. That’s the score his staff predicted the middle school would get this year. The score released Thursday was slightly better, 90.2 — enough to lift the school from a C to a B. Westdale Middle also led the way with the most improvement in the East Baton Rouge school system, gaining 17.8 points. If Westdale reaches 100, it will be an A school.
Couvillion announced the news on the intercom Thursday afternoon, as well as the news that sixth-grade English teacher Latonya Palmer is the school’s new teacher of the year. He then walked to her room to give her a congratulatory hug before turning to face her students.
“Are you are all proud of being a B school?” he asked, getting an excited reaction from the students.
“You want to do 100 now? You all down with that,” he asked them.
Palmer, now in her fifth year of teaching, all at the middle school, said she loves the place.
“The kids are wonderful,” she said. “They are so willing to do whatever you ask.”
Couvillion views school honors as part of larger effort to foster a greater sense of community, instill school pride and improve student behavior. In that vein, the school has new online behavior tracking system and Couvillion keeps a lookout for nice things he can say about the students.
At one point Thursday, he bent over to pick up a candy wrapper left on the ground. A student noticed and offered to take the wrapper to a nearby trash can. Couvillion accepted, then pulled out a little notebook to make sure he doesn’t forget the student’s unprompted act of kindness.
That giving attitude pervades the faculty and staff, too. After the historic flooding in August, many Westdale Middle staff suffered flooded homes. Couvillion and others went from the home of one flooded colleague after another for weeks to help clean up. When students returned, the middle school set up a store for people to pick up donated clothes and other items.
The generosity continues. After a staff member suffered a house fire recently, the school set up a donation box. By Thursday afternoon, the box was so full that Couvillion moved some overflow donations into an adjacent hallway. The principal had collected an envelope full of money for the staff member as well.
The most improved schools in the Baton Rouge area this year are part of the Recovery School District. Capitol High School, run by Washington, D.C.-based charter school group Friendship Schools, led the way, improving 42 points, growing from an F to a D-rating. Celerity, a Los Angeles-based charter school group, saw growth at all three of the north Baton Rouge schools it took over in 2014. The growth was especially strong at its Crestworth and Lanier campuses; since the August flooding, Lanier is doubling up at Crestworth as it awaits repairs at its 4705 Lanier Drive campus.
On the other end of the spectrum, THRIVE Charter Academy, a promising residential school where inner city children live throughout the week, took a dive this year, falling the most of any school in the Baton Rouge area, slipping from a C to a D. Baker High School was next in decline, slipping as well from C to D.
Another prominent school, Madison Prep Academy, which recently won a national Blue Ribbon School award based on school improvement, slipped notably, dropping from a B to a C rating. Madison Prep’s feeder school, Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, however, improved 11.2 points, from a low to a high B.
Glen Oaks Park was one of the stronger performers last year, growing 15.4 points. It still has a D grade, but it’s knocking on the door of a C.
Assistant Principal Tonya Bethly is looking to grow much more.
“We’re a Blue Ribbon school in the making,” Bethly said. “You have to envision it before you can do it.”
The school has its work cut out. Glen Oaks Park was inundated with 5 feet of water in August, forcing everyone to relocate several miles away to the former Banks Elementary School. The old school is located in Scotlandville and was a charter school last year. It was painted in the old school’s green and yellow colors, quite different from the red and black Glen Oaks Park takes pride in.
Principal Bernard Williams immediately began to repaint the place.
“There was that horrible, horrible green on the walls,” Williams said. “That was not inviting at all.”
Many of the students and staff have suffered flood damage at home.
“(The students) are getting over it,” Williams said. “It’s mostly the adults that still feel displaced.”
Glen Oaks Parks has brought with it some of its distinctive features. First, there’s the school pledge. Jamie Johnson’s fifth-graders recited it by heart with gusto, and it’s not a short pledge. The school’s mascot is the panthers, like nearby Southern University.
“What sounds does a panther make? It roars,” the students shout at point and then proceed to roar.
Students go beyond simple school pride. They routinely take over as teachers themselves.
Destiny Marta, 9, had students recite the learning objective for the lesson on multiplication, directing their eyes one word at a time with a wooden pointer.
“We can do commutative, associative and distributive properties of multiplication,” the class read aloud.
“Can we do it?” Marta asked the class.
“Yes, we can!” they shouted back.
Glen Oaks Park made the shift to having students teach many lessons several years ago. Bethly said students benefit.
“They get to middle school and they say sixth grade is a breeze,” she said. “They are very organized because you have to be to teach.”