A couple of weeks ago, I boarded a school bus in Baton Rouge bound for New Orleans for a hands-on opportunity to learn what charter schools are all about. I am a new member of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone Advisory Board. I knew little about charter schools other than what I have heard, and to be honest, most accounts weren’t positive. It was important for me to keep an open mind and see for myself. I was eager to see how schools with students that share similar backgrounds and challenges as most in the Achievement Zone were able to drastically and quickly change the academic outcomes for their students.
As we visited with J.S. Clark Prep, Sci-Academy, Kipp Central City and Martin Luther King Charter, I noticed every campus was different. We saw schools that held classes in modular buildings, brand new innovative campuses and older facilities. Some schools were startups; some grew by one grade a year, while others chose to take on turning around the entire school from day one. While each school was different, I started to see a common link: an unwavering commitment to the belief that every student can learn and achieve at a high level.
I asked one student, what do you think about the changes in your school? He said that he loved coming to school now. When asked why, his response was because teachers go out of their way to show they care and believe in us. They accept no excuses and expect us to work hard and participate. It was like a switch was flipped in these students and they realized that they could succeed.
At each school I saw a strong leadership with a clear vision and clear expectations for their students that created positive school cultures. Some of the things that stood out were each school had open enrollment, some required home visits with all students, provided students with their teachers and principals’ cell numbers, college banners on every classroom door and building each other up to help students see that they can be college bound.
At every stop, it was clear to me that leaders were able to run their schools based on what was best for the students in their building. It’s up to us as a community to demand great schools for our students. We need to flip the switch in ourselves and raise our own expectations of what is possible in the achievement zone. We need to band together and demand excellent schools that will put all students on a path to successful futures.
Collis Temple III
Baton Rouge Achievement Zone Advisory Board member