New Schools for Baton Rouge Teacher in Classroom
By: Chris Meyer

Fatherhood and Launching Schools

I had been through this before. My second child began to rock, then tumble forward, scoot, and then one day, he was off to the races. Although my first son is three years old, one would think I could remember the exact sequence of events and the lessons for baby-proofing the house. For whatever reason, I had to learn this all over again. Fortunately, with quick remedies (and a few trips to Home Depot), we now have baby gates, extra padding on sharp corners, and the evacuation of all heavy pots from low-level cabinets.

What’s remarkable in looking back on pictures and sharing stories with friends and family members is how differently my first and second child accomplished these growth milestones. Benet, our first, was quicker to stand and walk. Palmer didn’t crawl quite as early has his older brother, but give him a ball and he can hurl it across a room. And while the leaps from one stage to another can feel sudden in the moment – and certainly did with the first child where I felt like I was in constant maintenance mode – in looking back the change was measured and balanced over time.

This month marked the end of the first year of school for four new schools we helped launch. Each had very different needs and circumstances. At University Prep Elementary (UP), a kindergarten only school, students adjusted to an environment where every kid was expected to be on the road to college by equaling and surpassing their peers at the best schools in our city and state. Despite nearly 90 percent of these students being unable to recognize 10 letters or know how to hold a book at the beginning of the year (and the fact that more than half of these had previous experience in a Head Start program, which is a note for another day), UP moved its students more than 1.4 years of growth on average in reading, placing them above their peers across the state and nation.

Chris Meyer with Benet and Palmer
Palmer, Chris, and Benet Meyer

Celerity Crestworth has been a far different experience. As founder Vielka McFarland noted in her recent guest blog, they realized the transformation of Crestworth, a Kindergarten through eight grade full school turnaround that combined students from three previously underperforming middle schools into one, was different than what they had experienced in Los Angeles in the transformation of underperforming schools there. Fortunately, Celerity has a decade long track record with thousands on students to draw upon and make adjustments to this new situation while still providing a rigorous academic and whole child learning environment. Success for Crestworth was measured both in the academic growth of their students who started from far behind while also ensuring students and families bought into the program. Excitingly, nine out of ten students have re-enrolled in the school and new applications are pouring in because of the turnaround culture that was implemented at the school. This kind of trust building, in a school that previously experienced more than forty percent turnover of students and teachers each year, will allow Celerity to apply its proven model so that continued academic growth by students leads to a school that ultimately will achieve performance rates that rival the best schools in the state.

Next year, we will welcome three new schools into Baton Rouge, each that come with proven track records of experience. Democracy Prep CEO Katie Duffy, who oversees some of the highest performing schools in all of New York City despite serving students who live in some of the nation’s most challenged circumstances, provided her thoughts on how her team puts laser focus and a culture of fun in place when launching new schools. The team they have built in Baton Rouge is evidence of serious and accomplished educators who also love what they do and are building strong bonds with the community in which and families they serve. One of the lessons she provided that most caught my attention is that the paradox of school turnaround is both gradual and immediate.

That’s how I feel as a dad. Each day brings a new milestone and looking back at the arc of changes is both gratifying and eye opening in how much my two boys are growing and learning. School success won’t happen over night, but if we don’t pay attention, we’ll miss the experiences and lessons that are part of transforming once underperforming institutions into schools of learning, joy, and achievement. Let’s celebrate the early progress we’ve seen from gains in reading and math to the growing demand and buy-in from our families in these new school options while also remembering that before they run, they have to crawl.

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