2014 marked the beginning of Baton Rouge’s education transformation. This year, four new schools modeled after and led by some of the most experienced and proven school operators in the country opened in North Baton Rouge. These schools serve 2,700 students today, and will grow to be a part of our collective goal of delivering great schools to 12,000 students.
The unfortunate history of these schools is well known in Baton Rouge. For the past eight years, each has undergone multiple transitions, from the control of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System to well-intentioned yet inexperienced charter school operators to the Recovery School District’s management. Each transition failed to deliver on the promise of new opportunities and greater achievement, leaving these schools ranked as lowest in Louisiana at the end of last school year. This year’s experience so far stands in stark contrast.
Each school began the year with a waiting list of students and families seeking a new option. Families embraced the proven track record of experience brought to Baton Rouge, and registered students at the highest rates seen in these schools’ recent history.
Educators from Baton Rouge and across the country embraced new models of teaching and learning, and found, many for the first time, a professional experience where feedback and support were regular practice to develop each educator into the best teacher students had seen
Compared to previous years, when you walk the halls of Dalton, Crestworth, Lanier, and UP Elementary (located at former Glen Oaks Middle School) today, you find a calm and positive buzz where kids and teachers enjoy learning, form deep, trusting relationships, and community and family members interact and involve themselves in the daily routines of school.
During the early weeks at Celerity Crestworth, which combined three failing middle schools into one, there was evidence of students struggling to trust their new educators and each other: student fights and misconduct were not uncommon. Today, some of those same students brag about their the improvements on weekly assessments (academically and behaviorally), more effective writing on the school wide writing exams, their upcoming roles in the Urban Nutcracker or their early mastery of chess through the school-wide chess program. At University Prep, which includes 100 percent low-income students from every zip code of the city, early diagnostic testing of students revealed more than 80 percent didn’t know 10 or more letters. Today, half of the kindergartners at UP are reading on a first grade level. By the end of January, 75 percent will be reading on a first grade level.
These examples illustrate what is possible for students and families when we recruit and scale school models with proven track records. The transformation of the city’s lowest performing schools won’t happen overnight, but it’s clearly going in the right direction. Families are demanding these great school options. Student performance is rising on schools’ interim assessments. And the growing call for quality educational opportunities from the North Baton Rouge and city-wide communities are beginning to be answered.
2015 will be an even bigger year for our city and our organization. We are preparing to support the launch of three new schools this summer: Baton Rouge Bridge Academy, Baton Rouge College Prep, and Democracy Prep Baton Rouge. Six more will open the following year.
Let’s celebrate the early progress of our new schools and continue to double down on increasing great school options for all families in our city. We look forward to sharing our plans for ensuring every neighborhood in Baton Rouge has a great school option.