With fall’s arrival, we mark the beginning of the new school year for students, families, and educators across our community. The return to school brings opportunity for those to courageously confront new challenges, be inspired, and achieve higher learning and skills. As a parent sending my youngest off to kindergarten, it is also a little scary. He asks if he’ll make new friends, be as smart as his brother, or like the cafeteria food (my answers: “of course,” “equally so,” and “likely not, but it’s a right of passage”).
For many, this school year may bring lingering questions and concerns. While the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board finally passed a balanced budget for the first time in recent memory, it did so under the threat of massive layoffs and budget cuts. A closer look at the budget, as pointed out by many on the School Board, showed that there are structural changes that can and must be made without unnecessarily stoking fears of dedicated educators.
We have enormous challenges in our city: there are nearly four-dozen D and F-rated schools attended by nearly 20,000 students. These schools are, on average, half-filled and over 50 years old in facility age. Our city needs to operate with a sense of urgency. This challenge of so many of our most in-need students trapped in underperforming schools feels to many overwhelming and insurmountable. Some believe it is not solvable. We disagree.
At New Schools for Baton Rouge, this is our season. We are inspired by the families and educators actively choosing new educational opportunities and those recommitting to challenge themselves and achieve new heights. The start of the school year tells us a story of optimism for the city. Despite headlines of division, the truth is that we are in the middle of executing a long-term plan to ensure every student in the city has access to a great school.
This fall, more than 7,000 students walked through the doors of the nearly two-dozen schools we have helped start since our founding in 2012. Looking at last year’s academic results, students in our portfolio of schools made some of the greatest gains in the region and state, continuing a trend that our schools have achieved over the last several years. These schools, which exist in every corner of our community, are bringing both innovative and improved educational options for students and families. They are allowing families access to opportunities that previously did not exist. We are excited that our promise of a city where there is an excellent school for every child is becoming a reality. And we are doing this in partnership with the local school system and the state.
Just like helping my kindergartener overcome his fears of entering a new school, we must first start from a place of belief. And the results of our belief are evident in the outcomes of new schools and the choices thousands of families are making. But we also must engage and help this strategy along just as I must work with my son each day to be successful in school. This year, we have some of the most monumental choices facing our community, including the selection of a new superintendent to lead the city’s largest school district and the election of state leaders who will shape the legal and policy environment that has to-date placed Louisiana on a path to steady and positive improvements in education. These choices have consequences. As the weeks and months go on, we look forward to engaging in conversations with you about these issues and why they matter to the future of our city. For now, let’s reflect on the enormous opportunity and possibilities before us. Together, we can ensure every child in Baton Rouge can attend an excellent school.
Here’s to another outstanding school year,