Warren Drake stock

East Baton Rouge Schools Supt. Warren Drake takes questions outside the school board office on Oct. 24, 2018.

In his fourth and final annual evaluation as East Baton Rouge Parish schools superintendent, Warren Drake received the best marks since he took over the state’s second-largest school district in 2015.

“This may the highest grade I’ve received since I was in elementary school in Homer, La.,” Drake quipped at Thursday's school board meeting.

Overall, Drake received a composite score of 3.56 on a 4-point scale for the 2018-19 school year.

“It appears that you are going to graduate cum laude,” joked board member Dadrius Lanus.

Drake's latest score is 0.32 of a point better than he received the previous year. In his first and second years on the job, he earned higher composite scores of 3.5 and 3.3 points, respectively.

Anything above a 3 is considered "exceeds expectations.”

Drake waived his right to have a closed-door discussion with board members, though he said he did meet with all nine board members individually to discuss the results.

The board evaluated Drake in five areas. His scores ranged from a low of 3.45 for relations with the board to 3.71 in education leadership. That’s a better swing than in his previous years.

The other areas rated were community relations, in which he earned 3.63, staff and personnel relationship, in which he earned 3.5, and business and finance, in which he earned 3.52.

His high rating in education leadership is notable given that’s been his weak spot in the past. Last year, he earned only a score of 3.02 in that area.

Drake has said his toughest year was the second one, after the August 2016 floods that inundated 10 schools and several administrative centers, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. Students were out of school for 16 days.

Test scores generally went down that following spring. Drake later persuaded state leaders to waive school performance scores for that year for East Baton Rouge Parish schools.

He said Thursday the school system has bounced back well since.

“We’ve been in the top 10 for the past two years in terms of growth,” Drake said. “I think that’s significant.”

“(The flood) slowed the boat and made the motor stop,” he added. “But when we cranked it back up, it moved really fast.”

His evaluation was held later this year than in the past in order to capture school and district performance scores, which weren't released until early November.

Drake is retiring on June 30. The School Board has hired a search firm to find a replacement.

Baton Rouge schools chief will retire when his contract ends in June 2020

In other action, the board voted 8-0 to give Drake permission to finalize a memorandum of understanding with The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that formed in 1997 as an offshoot of the Teach For America, the group that places college graduates in struggling schools for two-year stints.

The New Teacher Project is offering free training to Baton Rouge school leaders through next June in return for receiving access to detailed data on student performance and teacher evaluation.

Board member Dawn Collins abstained. She did so in part because of concerns about intellectual property rights that the nonprofit group is attaching to the work it will be doing. Board attorney Gwynn Shamlin said the final agreement is still being negotiated but he’s still talking with the group about that.

Gretchen Lampe, UniServ director for the Louisiana Association of Educators, suggested the school system instead should interview its own teachers if it wants to figure out how to recruit and retain good educators. She also questioned the quality of The New Teacher Project’s past work in cities such as New York City and Camden, N.J.

“Tell me they are getting the most wonderful teachers in the world to teach in those schools. Oh please!” Lampe said with sarcasm.

Board member Tramelle Howard was the biggest supporter of the proposal. He said last year he worked the New Teacher Project when he was employed by another nonprofit, City Year, and came away impressed.

“They took the time and had the commitment to really learn about teachers at the ground level,” Howard said.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.