After months of preparation, teachers are greeting and instructing students in virtual classrooms, instead of traditional ones. Staff are monitoring health and safety data, preparing to-go meals for curbside pickup, deep-cleaning buses for eventual passengers. Students are learning and families are working — simultaneously — at home, at a distance.
It’s the first day of a new school year in East Baton Rouge Parish, and in many ways, the start of a new chapter for education in the capital city.
Not only is the public school system adjusting to new operational and academic demands as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led our schools to start the 2020-2021 school year under an all-virtual learning model; it’s welcoming new leadership, and with it, a new vision for the future.
After a 40-year career in public education, as a classroom teacher, a school principal and a school system administrator, I take the helm humbled and ready to serve its more than 40,000 students and their families, 5,000 employees, and 80 school communities. I also step into the role understanding these first weeks and months will be critical to ensuring long-term success.
Immediately, and above all else, my priority is to provide high-quality education, while maintaining the health and well-being of students, families, and educators. It is our goal to return to face-to-face instruction, starting with students in the early grades, but we can only do so once it is safe. In collaboration with local public health experts, the school system is working to understand when and how that determination can be made and what steps to take thereafter.
No matter the setting, our educators have prepared to deliver engaging, content-rich lessons, and our school system continues to work to ensure all students and families have the technology, resources and support to be successful. All students and families, particularly those most vulnerable, were set back by school facility closures in the spring. We cannot afford to let them fall further behind.
As we navigate new phases of recovery and what that means for public schools, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.
In these early days, I will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders — parents, teachers, community leaders, business and industry partners — to understand the challenges that existed even before the pandemic and to explore the opportunities we have yet to seize. I will build my knowledge of current initiatives and analyze budgets to ensure they are aligned to our greatest needs. I will create a culture of transparency and raise expectations for what we can achieve for every child, every day.
Over time, I will lead the development of a new strategic plan to guide the school system forward. That plan must be rooted in equity, choice, and innovation, and it must be assembled for the community, by the community, lifting all voices in support of the students in East Baton Rouge Parish.
This moment in time brings with it great uncertainty. It also presents a chance to reflect on what has worked and what has not, to define a shared vision for the future, and to map a clear path toward prosperity for all.
Today marks a new year and a new chapter. The East Baton Rouge Parish School System stands ready for the challenges ahead and keenly focused on our reason for existence: the student.
Leslie M. Brown is superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish schools.