The fight over the leadership of McKinley High School continues, but it's likely it won’t be resolved until some time in the new school year.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system recently rebuffed demands by two teachers unions to immediately investigate Principal Esrom Pitre, who took over the historic high school in July. They wanted an investigation done before teachers left for summer break May 23, but that didn't happen.
Union leaders wanted the district's Human Resources department to conduct an “environmental survey” of all school staff, similar to one conducted in spring 2018 after concerns were raised about Pitre’s predecessor, interim Principal James Kador.
The leaders of two teachers unions want the principal of McKinley High School to step down amid complaints that he rules by fear, retaliates a…
Millie Williams, chief of human resources, said Friday her office has not ruled out conducting such a survey of Pitre's administration, but it won’t happen until August, when employees return for the 2019-20 school year.
Local chapters of the Federation of Teachers and the Association of Educators are both calling for Pitre to step down as principal. They kept up the pressure Thursday, with McKinley employees lodging new grievances against Pitre.
Williams said two school employees filed formal grievances Thursday, while a third employee filed a complaint.
Pitre did not respond Saturday to requests for comment.
The school system has insisted that employees come forward with their names and specifics if they want an investigation.
Union leaders say at least two employees of the school did file grievances earlier in the year, but others with grievances did not because they feared retaliation or did not understand the process. They say staff who have complained “were targeted by the administration.”
As the 2018-19 school year was nearing its end, McKinley faculty took the unusual step of sending out a survey to the school's 120-plus employees and received 35 replies, all anonymous.
The survey found wide-ranging discontent with Pitre among those who responded. Union leaders and faculty seeking Pitre's removal had hoped that would persuade the district to decide to do a fresh environmental survey. But school system leaders continue to insist that employees come forward by name with their concerns.
“The biggest argument they had was that no formal grievances had been filed,” said Angela Reams-Brown, president of the local Federation of Teachers. “We didn’t want that to continue as as an argument.”
It’s unlikely the employees who filed the most recent grievances will prevail. School system policy specifies that grievances need to be filed “within ten working days of the date of the alleged complaints.” The concerns being raised in the latest grievances are older than that, the unions acknowledge.
“We’re going to listen out of courtesy,” Williams said.
McKinley High, 800 E. McKinley Drive, has had a different principal each of the past three years.
From 2009 to 2013, Pitre was principal at Donaldsonville High, helping to bring that small high school from an F to a B on its state-issued academic letter grade; McKinley High has a D. Prior to taking over at McKinley, Pitre briefly served as executive director at a new charter school, Athlos Academy, in Jefferson Parish.
Pitre spent most of his career in higher education, including stints as a professor at colleges in Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Shreveport and, most recently, working as an associate professor of educational leadership at Southern University.
McKinley High School started this school year with a staff of 125, one of the largest of any public school in Baton Rouge. Next year, that sta…
McKinley High was hardest hit in the school system's latest round of budget cutting as administrators prepare for the 2019-20 fiscal year. McKinley is losing 18 employees, which is double the next highest school, Scotlandville High School, which lost nine.
Some 190 employees lost their positions in the budgeting process, although only about 50 of those "impacted" employees, as of Friday, were still looking for jobs elsewhere in the school system.
Union representatives say McKinley’s process for figuring which employees would be cut from that school generated by far the most complaints.
“The impact process was improperly done,” said Gretchen Lampe, UniServ director for the Louisiana Association of Educators.
Pitre, in an interview in April, blamed declining enrollment for the loss of so many positions at McKinley High. The school still has about 1,150 students, but its enrollment is down from its 2015 peak of more than 1,400 students. And its gifted program has also shrunk. Ten positions cut were people teaching in those programs.
Williams said McKinley’s gifted program had grown too small to justify maintaining it as is.
“You had people teaching classes with four or five kids,” she said.
In picking who to let go, Williams said district rules give principals some latitude: “We wanted to give principals autonomy."