By: Ashley Heard

Baton Rouge’s Secret Sauce

Here at New Schools for Baton Rouge, I spend a lot of time thinking about people. More specifically, I strategize how to ensure that schools opening in Baton Rouge and growing here have the teachers they need. Between now and 2020, our city will need a whopping 1250 additional teachers. As I think about the teacher need, I occasionally wonder just how our city will deliver. My best-laid plans, and the spreadsheets that house them, simply don’t tell the full story. Baton Rouge will have the teachers it needs because in Baton Rouge, “We Gather.”

A few years ago, my sister made about 50 signs that read “We Gather.” She gave them out to the various family and friends that make up our ever-growing tribe. It stands for the proposition that when things go badly, when things go well, when it’s time for Sunday dinner, there’s always a place to gather and people to gather with.

What’s happening in education here is special and it’s special because Baton Rougeans have gathered together to demand a city of great schools. As a community, we believe that all families should be able to send their children to an excellent school and we have put our collective power, time, and resources on the line to make it happen. Pastors and community leaders have crafted a community compact outlining their demands of any new school that comes to town. Parents have voiced their support by enrolling their children in new schools, each with a track record of success. Local philanthropic leaders have donated money to fund new school start ups.

Talent partners are coming together around a citywide vision for teacher recruitment, development, and retention. In one such partnership, Celerity Charter Schools, City Year Baton Rouge and Southern University Baton Rouge are joining together to recruit and train teachers worthy of our students. Starting this year, City Year will place corps members at Celerity Charter Schools where they will provide one-on-one tutoring, mentorship, and after school programming for students. The corps members will also see what it takes to be a great educator and, if they decide teaching is the path for them, they will have the opportunity to apply for and enroll in a newly proposed education Masters program offered at Southern University.

Another potential partnership shows that the word on Baton Rouge has reached a national audience. This fall, Harvard University will launch the Harvard Teacher Fellows, which offers Harvard undergraduates a pathway into teaching. The program features a yearlong residency in one of a handful of partner cities. Baton Rouge is on the shortlist as a partner city and, in October of this year, the associate director of Harvard Teacher Fellows will visit to learn more about what we have to offer.

A consultant once asked me about the secret sauce of Baton Rouge education, about what sets our efforts apart. Our secret sauce is our people, gathered together, from near and far. Y’all, we are gathering, and the power of Baton Rougeans so aligned cannot be captured in a spreadsheet.

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