Panel: Charter schools still need to improve _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Catherine Pozniak, co-founder of the pro-charter group New Schools for Baton Rouge, second from left, speaks during an education forum sponsored by Forum 35. Others on the panel are Keith Bromery, the public relations director for the EBR school system, left, moderator K Gregory, Meghan Turner, Baton Rouge University Preparatory Elementary Charter School, and Adam Hawf, of the Louisiana Department of Education.

The educational options in Baton Rouge available to children living in poverty are not high quality but likely will be in the near future, said two of the four members of a panel on education Tuesday at LSU.

Adam Hawf, a deputy superintendent with the Louisiana Department of Education who works with charter schools, said his agency looks every year for schools with letter grades of B or better where 90 percent or more of the students live in poverty.

Baton Rouge does not have any charter schools at the moment meeting that criteria, but New Orleans has 11, he said.

It’s taken schools in New Orleans, most created a little before or after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, years to reach that level, but Hawf said he has hopes for a new crop of charter schools opening up in Baton Rouge starting this fall.

Catherine Pozniak, a co-founder of the nonprofit New Schools for Baton Rouge, helped recruit and is financially supporting some of those schools to Baton Rouge. She said her organization used research from a group at Stanford University to set a high bar of quality to determine the schools that New Schools would support.

“Unfortunately, we believe that not enough of the students in high-needs communities are getting access to a good education,” Pozniak said.

Hawf and Pozniak sat on a four-member panel organized by the young professional group Forum 35. Organizers said they tried unsuccessfully to get a representative from the effort to create the city of St. George to sit on the panel.

Three of the four panelists were connected to charter schools, public schools run by private organizations via contracts, or charters.

The only member of Tuesday’s panel who wasn’t connected to charters was Keith Bromery, director of communications for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

Bromery, who took the job in November, argued many residents wrongly pass over traditional public schools in Baton Rouge and other cities based on erroneous word of mouth or outdated experience, rather than seeing for themselves.

He said a recent study by the Council of Great City Schools — “They are advocates of public education, but they won’t lie for us” — shows East Baton Rouge Parish is in the middle to a bit behind the pack when compared with 21 urban school districts.

The study also shows the parish school district’s more affluent students, both white and black, are often at or near the top compared with those other urban districts.

“People really ought to give us a look sometime rather than just going by these past misconceptions of public education,” Bromery said.

Hawf, Pozniak and the other panelist, Meghan Turner, are closely connected to an incoming group of charter schools overseen by the state-run Recovery School District and part of what the state’s calling the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.

Turner is the leader of one of them, Baton Rouge University Prep Elementary School, which is opening this fall with a kindergarten class on the campus of Prescott Middle School, which is closing in a few weeks.

Turner said she supports charter schools, as well as traditional public and private schools, but said parents in Baton Rouge need better choices than they have now.

“When I have friends who are moving to Ascension Parish, I hate it, but I can’t blame people who are seeking what they see as better options,” Turner said.

Pozniak said she doubts that creating breakaway schools districts such as one sought by St. George supporters will improve public education overall compared to other education reform efforts.

“The solution they are seeking is to break away and build a wall, and it’s unclear what you achieve by doing that,” she said.