Dozens of children, almost all in middle school and all at least two years behind their peers, are transferring to three alternative schools in Baton Rouge, schools that were created for students just like them but that they’ve been ineligible to attend until now.
The transfers, which began in late August, involve as many as 70 students previously enrolled in neighborhood middle schools and 13 in neighborhood elementary schools.
Michelle Clayton, deputy superintendent for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the formerly ineligible students frequently were absent from school and consequently unable to meet attendance requirements established by the three schools, all known as superintendent’s academies.
The students are newly enrolled in three known superintendent’s academies: Eden Park, Greenville and Northdale.
The bulk of the children have landed at Greenville Superintendent’s Academy, which focuses on middle schoolers and has about 130 students.
Clayton said the academies have the option of either integrating the new children into their existing programs or creating something new, what the system is calling the Achiever Program, just for the new arrivals.
“We want to give the principals autonomy,” she said.
Sherwanda Johnson, principal of Greenville, is setting up a separate program for the newcomers and is expecting about 30 to 35 students to arrive starting Tuesday.
“Those kids will be in the Achiever’s Program, and they will have to work their way up to the Superintendent (Academy) side,” Johnson said.
Some of the over-age students who’ve been identified for transfer likely will stay put because educators at their current schools say they are making sufficient progress there, Johnson said.
The new students arriving come in three categories:
14 years old or about to turn 14 and only in sixth grade
15 or almost 15 and only in seventh grade
16 or almost 16 and only in eighth grade.
“Those kids, we’re gonna lose them,” Clayton said.
To try to make sure these absence-prone children now stay in school, truancy officers will make more-frequent efforts to locate and bring to school truant kids and arrange counseling for them if need be, she said.
The superintendent’s academies were formed in 2013 by then-Superintendent Bernard Taylor.
They started with a roughly even mix of educational software and face-to-face instruction, what’s known as blended learning, to try to accelerate over-age students so they can eventually rejoin their peers in their neighborhood schools.
“We want those schools to work themselves out of business and to help those kids catch up,” Clayton said.
At a School Board retreat held Aug. 29, board member Barbara Freiberg said she’s been unhappy with what she’s seen during several visits to classrooms at superintendent’s academies, saying while there’s ample technology, instruction is often lacking.
“A lot of baby-sitting and not a lot of teaching,” Freiberg said. “Who’s helping those teachers to help those kids who have very, very special needs?”
“I’ve been visiting those facilities,” responded Superintendent Warren Drake. “There’s an expectation that every teacher is going to be teaching every moment they can.
“There’s no such thing as a free day. Period,” he added.
At Greenville, the model has shifted away from blended learning to a more traditional model where students learn face to face with the teacher and where technology is integrated into instruction. Johnson said the key is forging strong relationships with students to convince them they can catch up.
“It’s a motivational thing,” she explained. “They think they cannot do it. They’ve been beaten down for so long.”
The superintendent’s academies grew out of an older initiative known as CKAP, short for Core Knowledge Acceleration Program, that began in the early days of Louisiana’s high-stakes testing to deal with a glut of students in Baton Rouge who repeatedly failed tests and were held back. CKAP programs, unlike superintendent’s academies, were housed inside neighborhood middle schools.
After their first year in operation, the superintendent’s academies all earned F grades. One superintendent’s academy, at the Christa McAuliffe Center on Goodwood Boulevard, closed in May.
Clayton told the board she’s in the process of adding staff at all the academies to bring teacher-pupil ratios down from where they are now so they range from 1:10 to 1:15. One school right now is at 1:17, she said.
Clayton said another recent change is that the new director of high schools, John McCann, has been placed over the superintendent’s academies and disciplinary centers so they have more consistent oversight.