New Schools Teacher with Students
By: Catherine Pozniak

Time to Change the Traditional Model of School Turnaround

When I decided to start New Schools for Baton Rouge, I did so knowing the path was filled with obstacles, naysayers, and a troubled history. But, more importantly, the opportunity for great improvement in our community was even stronger.  I am passionate about education and believe that providing a great education is the most important gift we can give our children; indeed, it is our most important community responsibility. With that being said, it saddens me to know that there are places in our community where that promise is unfulfilled. New Schools for Baton Rouge, together with the community, aims to change that.

Too many children attending public schools in North Baton Rouge are unable to meet basic grade level math, reading, and writing standards. These schools are charged with educating more than 12,000 students, yet most are not fulfilling the most basic promise to children or their families, and, unfortunately, they have not been doing so for more than a decade.

While many efforts have been made to improve the quality of education in this area, the lack of experience and misplaced focus has hindered that reform. Previous efforts focused on electing “reform” school boards, hiring superhero superintendents and school leaders, and pouring untold resources into schools without giving principals the power to direct those resources and holding them accountable for their decisions.

The good news is that there is a strong and growing demand in Baton Rouge to improve the quality of our schools. It is time to change the traditional model of school turnaround because it is simply not working.

New Schools for Baton Rouge is a non-profit organization that is partnering with the community and local educators to bring proven high-performing school models to Baton Rouge.  We believe — and it has been proven in communities across the country and Louisiana — that great schools can overcome the challenges our most disadvantaged students face and give them real opportunities to pursue and achieve their dreams.  Indeed, my life was changed by the opportunity to attend a great high school.  That is why our work focuses on the school as the unit of change.

New Schools for Baton Rouge is starting where the need and demand for change is greatest – North Baton Rouge.  Within the next five years, our goal is to create new, excellent schools serving 12,000 students. To accomplish this goal, we scour the region and country for the best school organizations and recruit them to expand their models to Baton Rouge.  We raise resources from private and public sources to provide solutions for one-time, start-up costs for these schools.  And we establish relationships with exceptional teachers, talent development organizations, and other partners to create an ecosystem in Baton Rouge where all schools can access resources and relationships that help them succeed in delivering a great education to every student.

This model isn’t new.  After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, New Schools for New Orleans was formed to help lead the transformation of one of the nation’s most troubled education systems.  The city pursued a strategy to return power and accountability to schools and educators, provide families broad access to schools run by different institutions – government and non-profits – and build an environment where the most talented educators and innovators in the country would want to come and contribute to real change.  Seven years later, New Orleans schools have improved faster than any other group in our state – growing from the worst performing system in the state to outpacing its peer districts in terms of size, including East Baton Rouge Parish.

A tragic event, such as Katrina, does not (and should not) have to be the catalyst for reform. Baton Rouge has the opportunity to prove that it does not require a natural disaster to rebuild a system of schools that put students first.  The question is, will we take advantage of this opportunity?

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