New Schools for Baton Rouge is endeavoring to start 20 schools in the capitol city by 2017.
The non-profit's leader, Chris Meyer, was previously an administrator in the state-run Recovery School District. When New Schools launched last April, the RSD appeared ready to hand over the keys to the 7 schools it runs directly in Baton Rouge as soon as Meyer and his team had the charter school operators and resources in place.
Nearly a year and a half later, New Schools has picked half a dozen of what it considers to be the best charter operators in the country -- including Yes Prep and KIPP, which, as The Lens has reported, are familiar names in New Orleans. Backers have committed roughly $15 million in seed money. This fall the Recovery School District is starting the process of matching up the operators with buildings where they can start charter schools in Baton Rouge.
But with some East Baton Rouge Parish Schools getting out from under state control as The Advocate has reported, will New Schools be able to get access to all the school buildings it needs in order to hit its target of converting 20 in four years? WRKF’s Amy Jeffries put that question to Chris Meyer.
JEFFRIES: You've got the money, you've got the approvals, you've identified the operators. Do you have the schools?
MEYER: I think initially, you know, the RSD, has access to seven or eight buildings that were the most struggling schools in the parish, and that's where we want to focus the attention of the initial group of operators.
You know, a school building is one unit, but there are opportunities to have multiple schools and to kind of stretch what we think about schools and so we really want to make sure we're using all the available space, working with the district as well.
At the end of the day, I don't think we're going to be satisfied if we take our most struggling schools today, which are still rated D and F, and we put them on a path to where they're quickly climbing the ladder and will be As within the next four to five years once they're launched. If that happens, I think then we've got to go back and look, is every other school at that same level? And then, what role could New Schools play, again, as kind of this public-private partnership, to help move that forward.
JEFFRIES: There are schools in the East Baton Rouge Public School District that are making great gains. I think about Winbourne Elementary. Their test scores are up over 40 percent in just four years. And they are one of these schools that was, until recently, at risk of state takeover. They've managed a turnaround with intensive interventions with their students, small group instruction in reading and math, to catch these kids up, many of whom are from very disadvantaged backgrounds.
Do you think,Chris Meyer, that in the future New Schools for Baton Rouge might throw some of its resources at a school like Winbourne? Or at replicating the success that they've had at other traditional public schools within the district?
MEYER: Certainly. I think a lot of our long term work is around understanding, you know, additional schools that we can grow and support and have them do more of what they're doing best.
JEFFRIES: We so often measure schools by test scores, especially here in Louisiana it feels like. Can you give me an example of where you might have seen that spark of excellence that you're talking about beyond a test score.
MEYER: There was a teacher on the second floor of Istrouma High School, he was a first-year teacher, Mr. Edwards, taught math. I remember visiting him on, it was maybe the second or third week of school, so very very early. They were doing basic fraction reduction operations -- this was not material that should have been taught in high school, yet, the kids, that's where they were. Mr. Edwards, though didn't treat this as, "I can't believe what you kids can't do." He was very excited about, "let me tell you guys about how this applies to your life, and how together when we solve this, here's the next thing we're going to be able to accomplish." And he had goals that every one of his kids, by their senior year -- his goals was that they would all be ready and able to take calculus.
What the reality is, is Mr. Edwards in a school where those kids when they leave Mr. Edwards' class and go to the next period, are they walking into a classroom where equally somebody is just as fired up?
We've got thousands of educators here with that spark, but we've got to take that and rally that into sort of a delivery system that works at the school level. That's going to allow us to really change the trajectory of what we're on.
JEFFRIES: Chris Meyer, head of New Schools for Baton Rouge, I can't wait to see what happens.
MEYER: Thank you.