Months in the making, the East Baton Rouge Parish’s rewrite of its strategic plan is taking shape — and may mean big changes in how local public schools operate.
These proposed changes include greater autonomy for principals in selecting teachers and budget matters, hiring educators mostly from high-rated prep programs or with records of achievement, a test-score based teacher evaluation system, incentives to place teachers in high-need schools, and more cross-town enrollment options for students.
These initial proposals, first unveiled Aug. 9, represent about half of the strategic plan. Proposals for the other half will be announced at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
This work is all being done under the umbrella of a 25-member panel of local citizens that goes by the name the EBR Committee for Educational Excellence.
In June, that committee settled on a bold goal that the school system will be a top 10 Louisiana district by 2020. The latest district performance scores from 2010 showed East Baton Rouge Parish as 51st of 71 school districts in the state with a score of 82.2.
To make this ambitious goal a reality, the committee divided into six subcommittees, tasked with coming up with strategies and underlying “tactics” to improve six broad areas of schooling. Those subcommittees met repeatedly during July and early August.
Three subcommittees offered reports last week and the other three are reporting Tuesday. These events are being held at the school system’s Professional Development Center, 3000 N. Sherwood Forest Drive.
“The first three subcommittees, I thought those reports were outstanding,” said David Tatman, co-chairman of the committee and the School Board’s point person on the strategic plan rewrite.
Tatman gave special credit to the three leaders of those committees who presented on Aug. 9: Chris Meyer, policy director for the Louisiana Department of Education; Michael Tipton, executive director of Teach For America South Louisiana; and Kimberly Williams, legal director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Each of the subcommittee reports were wide-ranging and reflected, to some extent, policy positions of their respective leaders. Meyer’s and Tipton’s committees covered similar ground at times.
Meyer’s committee proposed a significant revamp of how the school system hires, trains, evaluates and pays teachers. It’s in line with the state’s new under-development teacher evaluation system and proposals the state made as part of its unsuccessful federal Race To The Top proposal.
At the heart of it is moving away from sole reliance on principal observations in teacher evaluations to greater emphasis on student test scores. Teachers ranked in the top 25 percent would get rewards, while teachers ranked in the bottom 25 percent would get fired.
“It is a considerable shift,” Meyer asaid, “not just for EBR, but for the entire state.”
Tipton, who co-chaired his subcommittee with local CPA David Winkler, spoke at length about the need for greater freedom for principals to hire the teachers they need and to spend money in the ways they deem most important. Meyer’s committee also proposed such a change.
“What principals really wanted was the ability to make determinations for what they wanted in their school,” said Tipton.
In connection with this, Tipton’s subcommittee proposes using an “adaptive dollar per student formula” like those used in many charter schools, and to spend less or privatize things that are not considered school or student-based spending.
Williams’ subcommittee is called “Community and Parental Involvement Subcommittee” but Williams in her presentation just called it the “School Choice” subcommittee.
The report called for “universal access to educational choices.” Williams said the school system needs to overcome the effects of poverty, which she said means that children in some parts of town have worse choices than those in other parts of town.
“If I choose for my child to attend school in Shenandoah although I might live near Banks Elementary, I should have that right, correct?” Williams wrote in her report.
“Did you discuss how you pay for this?” School Board President Barbara Freiberg asked.
Williams said no, that the proposals represented a “wish list.” She acknowledged that the school system has had to make big budget cuts recently.
SSA Consultants is serving as the facilitator of the strategic plan rewrite.
Rudy Gomez, a partner with SSA, said once all the subcommittee reports are in, his team will clean them up, harmonize them, eliminate repetition, note relevant school system initiatives in these areas, and then bring a draft back to the committee. Once a draft has been approved, a series of community forums will be held to get more feedback from the public.
President Freiberg said she likes what she’s heard so far, though the process has taken months longer than she’d hoped. She said that probably by October, the School Board will have a strategic plan it can vote on.
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Follow the strategic plan rewrite: http://news.ebrschools.org/explore.cfm/ebrstrategicplan/.