It is important to define Reform and Responsible Leadership for us to advocate for the same rules and regulations for all education models funded with public dollars. I believe that most responsible parents and educators desire true education policy reform and accountability for achieving a world class educational system. It becomes a major responsibility of all stakeholders to support this effort. Their involvement will foster meaningful classroom learning experience for all children to achieve positive academic performance outcomes.
Leadership has been defined by former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, a school board member in his early career, as "Responsible Decision Making" and "not about wealth, power or self." Today, we can observe that the trend is often about lack of responsible decision making by elected and appointed officials who address education issues affecting our children's future quality of life. The recent BESE election revealed how wealth, power and self centered individuals have used enormous amounts of funds to acquire complete control of the membership of this major Policy Making Board for Education. Reform is defined in at least two ways per the Webster dictionary. The first, my favorite, to improve by correction of errors, removal of deficiencies, give up of irresponsible practices, or change for the better. Another definition, used by present reform advocates, is to abolish, abandon, desert, permanently change, etc. Which do you prefer?
Our state constitution specifies that the legislature shall create school boards and provide for the election of their members. It also states that the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, BESE, "shall have no control over the business affairs of a city, parish, or other local public school board, or the selection or removal of its employees." BESE got around the above legislation with the passage of a constitutional amendment (vote of people) several years ago, which states "BESE shall have the power to manage and operate a public school which it has been determined to be failing." The public will have to decide whether this was Responsible Leadership since many of the Recovery Schools are continuing to be categorized as "failing".
A review of the Louisiana Revised Statues defines "failing", prior to Katrina meant being academically unacceptable for four (4) consecutive years. After Katrina in 2005 until 2009, "failing" meant being below the state averages SPS and being in a school district determined to be "academically in crisis". This was Act 35 and allowed for the takeover of the New Orleans schools. Presently, several parishes have some of their schools being under the supervision of the Recovery School District, RSD, which originated in New Orleans. A recent newspaper article in the Baton Rouge paper suggests possible takeover of some schools in this city. The trend is established and the BESE membership has been a cooperative body in permitting this trend to expand into other parts of the state. As the reader is able to observe, all of these rules and regulation changes were developed and approved by BESE members, personally endorsed as well as financially supported by wealthy and good friends of the governor. A question that the general public will have to ask themselves, is this responsible leadership for making the best decisions for the education of all children?
My six month effort to seek a position on the BESE Policy Making Board, resulted in being in a Run Off but unsuccessful in the general election and hundreds of thousands of dollars were inserted by special interest groups into the last 3 elections, 2, 6, and 8 districts, two days before election day. As a voluntarily term limited school board member (8 years), I was aware of the importance of Policy matters. Policy development is best formed when observations and willingness to accept experiences of professional educators on the front lines of school's classroom instructional activities become the basis for responsible decision making. Generalizations and platitudes by BESE members and supporters of the Governor may not be the most objective method(s) for developing important Education Policy. However, it is my understanding that the Governor is planning to tour the state and speak with various stakeholders. This approach, as my effort, is a positive development for productive and responsible reforms to occur in education. Hopefully, he will observe similar good things happening in many traditional public schools within this state.
Recent campaign efforts have involved discussions with many parish school superintendents, parish school board members, business leaders, and numerous other interested stakeholders. Because of these personal contacts within numerous parishes, it has enabled me to observe responsible reform schooling concepts being implemented in many traditional schools.
A primary responsibility of the BESE is a constitutional authority; to develop and set policy. It is to encompass programs which offer great curriculum offerings, student/teacher engagement, reasonable size classes, balanced enrollments to ensure diversity of demographics, and promote/implement a learning culture of excellence and high student achievement. Responsible leadership by the school superintendent in Iberville parish and its local board has implemented such a reform model school. This school is the Math, Arts, and Science Academy located in Plaquemine and a sister school on the east bank of the Mississippi River. The sole use of selective enrollment criteria is not used in providing educational opportunities to all parish children. Student Performance Scores at this school are 122 or A grade. Also, please refer to number 5 below for additional achievements.
Several weeks ago, a reporter from the Lafayette Advertiser requested a response from candidates to a question; "What changes would you support in public education systems?" Dr. Jim Guillory suggested changes which include: 1. Work to assure that BESE members adhere to their constitutional authority for developing education policy, not the governor. This relates to providing equal opportunity to all children for a quality of education guided by certified and qualified teachers as well as competent leadership teams at each school. Ascension schools have been doing very well over the years under guidance of Don Songy, former superintendent. Erath High School has been designated as the highest performance school in the state and St. Martin Parish School Board and its Superintendent, Mr. Richard Lavergne, have a school recognized by the state as an exemplary model and are competing for national recognition. Additionally, West Baton Rouge, Brusly High School has earned Student Performance Scores of 103 while having a demographic of 55% and 45%, white and minority students respectively. The Zachary and Baker independent school districts are also doing extremely well in their respective systems; 2. Review of MFP formula to assure more equity in district funding allocations. Avoyelles Parish is a rural system that is moving in a positive direction despite the many financial obstacles presented to them by BESE policies. This system has two elementary schools with 93.1 and 103 plus Student Performance Scores and several others with trends towards better test scores. One of the high schools performs regularly at about 85 plus with a diverse student population; 3. BESE should prioritize funding and implement a five year statewide universal Pre-K to 4th grade programs designed to prepare young children for improved academic achievement as well as increased graduation rates and/or a reduction In dropouts. The West Feliciana school system has implemented this reform model for fifteen years. Each of their schools have test-grade scores of B or B plus as of recent reports. This concept of a reform model school system has been proven but BESE and other reform minded groups desire a different direction; 4. Address and correct the negative impact of discipline and large class issues as correlated to SPS and grades defining failing schools; 5. Promote the development of educational policies that consist of academic curriculums which prepare students for college bound individuals as well as those who desire vocational education as a career path to earn certified trade skill sets needed by businesses (Evangeline Parish has a state recognized program for training welders, etc); 6. Review and objectively evaluate all programs for their effectiveness to improve student achievement and graduation rates; 7. Design accountability procedures at all levels of management and instructional programs funded by public funds.
My conclusion of observations during the recent BESE campaign shows that there appears to be a growing list of national Blue Ribbon schools in statewide school systems. Most of these schools are governed by local school boards and superintendents. Why not give them credit rather than continuous blame from state government officials? BESE could fulfill its Constitutional Authority by addressing Responsible Reform Models which build on the many positive true reforms being implemented in various school systems. Members of BESE certainly could show their independence by objectively reviewing and addressing the reform models presented. Also, is it legal for BESE members as well as state legislators to pass laws which geremander voting districts and provide specific regulations for select enrollment schools?
This open letter is for elected officials desiring an affirmation that they are truly Responsible LEADERS for Education of ALL CHILDREN. Their response/s will determine whether the general public may expect a quality education system which prepares our children to compete in a 21st Century global job market.
Finally, federal law states that "reform schools" must have open enrollment not restricted or selective enrollment. Is BESE and the administration fulfilling their constitutional duty to all children? Do BESE members have conflicts of interest when voting on key issues advocated by the governor and special reform model schools proponents?
Responsible leadership by BESE members, using objective and equitable student performance scores, should be used when comparing schools for a grade. For example, statistical comparative analysis of student data may be more equitable if test scores for selective enrollment schools were compared to the A and B students in a traditional school? See AvoyellesToday.com
Merry Christmas to everyone and please remember our military families in this special holy season.
Jim Guillory, Ph.D., AuD and Former BESE Candidate District 8