LAUNCH: BATON ROUGE YOUTH VOICE INITIATIVE

The Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative, a collaborative project of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council, Baton Rouge Alliance for Students and Safe, Hopeful, Healthy BR, launched in February. A key component of the Initiative, the Truth Booth, can be found popping up in locations across the parish. 

The Initiative seeks to identify student perspectives on areas of need in Baton Rouge, elevate student voice in K12 education policy, and develop a pipeline for student engagement at all levels of EBR government systems.

The interactive Truth Booth interactive experience allows Baton Rouge students to lend their voices, be heard, and share their perspectives on the improvements they would like to see in their schools and communities. 

The Truth Booth allows students to tell their stories and engage in meaningful dialogue with local decision-makers through a digital experience. 

Baton Rouge Alliance for Students and Mayor Broome Announce Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative

For media inquiries:
Liz Smith 
Chief Strategy Officer
liz@brallianceaction.org
Mobile: 225-436-2696

Baton Rouge Alliance for Students and Mayor Broome Announce Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative 

Baton Rouge, La. — February 17, 2022 —Baton Rouge Alliance for Students,  announced a collaboration between the Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council’s (MYAC), and Safe, Hopeful Healthy BR to form the Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative. 

The Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative seeks to identify the highest areas of need for students within the community; elevate the voice of students in K-12 education policy; and develop a pipeline for engagement at all levels within the City-Parish government and local government agencies. 

“This collaboration is a major stepping stone in elevating and empowering youth in our community – The Youth Voice Initiative will allow our students to share their stories, their needs, and goals, allowing them to advocate for themselves and their peers,” said Mayor Broome. “Our students are in our schools everyday, and they can provide valuable insight on what we as leaders can do to strengthen their futures.”

The Baton Rouge Alliance for Students will engage consultants guided by national best practices to conduct a comprehensive listening series resulting in the production of a student-driven report on education in East Baton Rouge Parish. 

“In creating a future for EBR’s youth in which they achieve the lives they deserve and desire, amplifying their experiences must be at the forefront of system-design, ” said Adonica Pelichet Duggan, CEO of Baton Rouge Alliance for Students. “We believe an excellent education is every child’s birthright, and that understanding the experience of young people is a key way to assess how our community is faring in delivering that birthright.”

This partnership will engage students from the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council as social media ambassadors, focus group participants and youth liaisons. Students will participate in a listening series, conduct peer interviews and take part in focus groups. The project management team will gather survey data and produce a report as well as capture and document the process through a series of collateral materials including but not limited to video stories, podcast appearances, earned-media and social media campaigns.

All East Baton Rouge Parish students are encouraged to participate in the Youth Voice Initiative. For more information about The Baton Rouge Youth Voice Initiative or to take the survey online, parents and students can visit www.batonrougestudents.org

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INTRODUCING OUR NEWEST TEAM MEMBERS, LAUREN-BRIANNA FIELDS AND KOREY RYDER! 

Lauren-Brianna Fields joins our team as our Communications Director. Lauren was formerly a communication and digital media consultant, working for the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative, HealthyBR, where she saw HealthyBR through the communications and messaging around COVID response. Lauren has a background in marketing, events, and business. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from LSU in 2011 and spent time living in Washington DC and New York before returning home to Louisiana in 2017.

Korey Ryder joins the Alliance as our Political Director. Korey and his partner have lived in Houston for three years and are excited about returning to Baton Rouge. Korey has been working in politics and campaigns since 2014, having started as a legislative aide for the Jefferson Parish Legislative Delegation while earning his political science degree. His most recent work has been with The Political Firm, managing and organizing campaigns for political offices ranging from Mayor to U.S. Congress.

Baton Rouge should set standard for openness in spending new federal dollars

The School Board should take the lead in implementing a system publicly communicating district expenditures similar to one recently proposed by Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge. HB38 would have required districts to participate in Louisiana’s Open Checkbook, a financial data transparency system. It’s a system much like Open Checkbook BR, launched in 2018. Extending this kind of budgetary transparency to the school system should be a no-brainer.

The East Baton Rouge district is starting to spend hundreds of millions of federal dollars for learning loss and COVID-related spending. It also just approved a new comprehensive strategic plan, which should guide spending of both these federal dollars and the district’s own significant annual budget. Increasing transparency around whether the district’s funds are aligned to priorities would be a welcome step for a new superintendent who has vowed to take the district in a positive direction.

Data transparency isn’t new here. Open Data BR was approved by resolution of the Metro Council in 2017. Baton Rouge has been recognized nationally on several occasions for the level of transparency of our local government data. Now is an excellent time for the EBR school district to join the metro council and Mayor’s office.

When the governor vetoed HB38, he wrote that local districts do not have the resources or technology to comply with its requirements. Costs were pegged at $15,000 for set up and $25,500 annually, which stands to impact Louisiana’s smaller school systems. But in EBR, where the annual budget is approximately $450 million and the 3-year federal COVID-19 funding is another approximately $250 million, the benefits outweigh the cost.

We believe that parents, families and taxpayers deserve a chance to fully see how the district spends our students’ education funding.

ADONICA PELICHET DUGGAN

CEO, Baton Rouge Alliance for Students

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge should embrace nationally competitive charter schools

In June, the School Board turned down an opportunity to offer 4,400 students access to new nationally competitive schools in Baton Rouge. We’ve seen other parish officials embrace the arrival of Amazon, but the board did not roll out a similar welcome mat for these schools. Rather than using its authorization power for students, the board chose to limit competition in favor of its own planning.

Rather than focusing on the great school options before them, the board alluded to plans for future district-run schools meant to fill existing quality gaps and bemoaned the financial impact of families choosing charter schools. Board members seemed to be saying, “Take your great schools elsewhere, we don’t need them.” This prioritization of systems over students is a slippery slope.

With 11,000 students in EBR’s D- and F-rated schools, Baton Rouge is not in a position to turn down successful schools. This is despite decades of district improvement plans. The choices many EBR parents make about education demonstrate their skepticism of the district’s ability to provide a pathway to their children’s successful futures.

The board narrowly approved one smaller-than-proposed school and nearly unanimously rejected another, denying Discovery Schools the opportunity to serve Baton Rouge. The school’s success addressing the needs of diverse learners, demonstrated by its overwhelming popularity with families in Jefferson Parish, makes it an excellent option for Baton Rouge.

The role of the system is to provide students with a high-quality education. East Baton Rouge schools cannot yet offer a high-quality school option to every student. We join the school board members in their hope that the district’s comprehensive plan will yield dramatically improved results for students. But we do not believe turning down high-quality options should be part of their strategy.

ADONICA PELICHET DUGGAN

Baton Rouge Alliance for Students

Baton Rouge is not in a position to be turning down successful schools

At their most recent meeting, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board had the opportunity to offer more than 6,000 students access to schools that are outperforming the state and even the nation on many education measures. Instead of rolling out the welcome mat for these schools, the way we see parish officials embracing the arrival of Amazon, the board’s conversation steered away from school quality to center instead on the district’s plans to meet the needs of families and the financial impact of charter schools on the system. Board members seemed to be saying “Take your great schools elsewhere, we don’t need them in Baton Rouge.” This predictable prioritization of systems over students is a dangerously slippery slope. Baton Rouge is not in a position to be turning down successful schools. At last count there were 11,000 students in EBR’s schools waiting for the district to implement plans for improvement.  Do parents across our community believe that this school system is already adequately providing a pathway to the future they want for their children?

The board ended up narrowly approving one great school and nearly unanimously rejecting another.  Denying Discovery Schools the opportunity to expand to Baton Rouge and serve the students and families of this community does not improve education in Baton Rouge. In Jefferson Parish, this school has more than 1,000 students on their waiting list. Itoutperforms 81 percent of Louisiana schools in serving students with special needs, 70 percent of Louisiana schools serving Black students and 60 percent of those serving English Language Learners. Its success addressing the needs of diverse learners would make them an excellent option forBaton Rouge students.

The role of the system is to serve students and families by providing a high quality education. Our school board and the district administration cannot yet offer the same level of quality as these exceptional schools to all the students that seek it. In this case, rather than using their power of authorization to expand access to great schools, the board sought to limit competition in favor of their own planning. 

The school board members who voted against these schools stated that they anticipated increases in student achievement driven by their coming strategic plan’s comprehensive strategy for school improvement. We, too, hope the district’s comprehensive plan will yield dramatically improved results for students. We also believe these schools should be one prong of such an improvement strategy. We look forward to the implementation of Superintendent Narcisse’s plan for improving the quality of education directly provided by the district, but standing in the way of opportunities for families should not be a part of the strategy.

Adonica Pelichet Duggan
CEO

There is still much work to be done to expand opportunities for the Baton Rouge students most in need

What has been publicly released about the district strategic planning process gives me a great deal of hope about the path to improving EBR Schools. Despite these positive signals, the nearly 15,000 students who remain in underperforming schools necessitate that the EBR school board urgently take advantage of every available opportunity to increase access to excellent schools. The district must respond to the positive trend of students moving from lower to higher quality schools by creating more of them.

Later this month, the EBR School Board will have the opportunity to approve applications for two successful non-profit schools that are seeking the chance to serve Baton Rouge students. The school board can leverage this opportunity to further expand the array of great schools now serving the diverse needs and priorities of Baton Rouge families, as authorizing high-quality non-profit schools is a critical prong of a comprehensive strategy to better deliver for Baton Rouge students. But there is no doubt that, as with all charter approvals, these too will meet with predictable opposition from those fixated on systems over students.  Parents and families deserve to have access to schools that best address their needs, and they don’t care who runs them. 

Both Great Hearts and Discovery Schools have demonstrated strong promise to serve the needs of Baton Rouge students. The success of Great Hearts students is hard to deny. The class of 2020 had an average ACT score of 28 and 97 percent of the graduates are college bound. Discovery Schools operates a highly sought-after K-12 health sciences school in Jefferson Parish in partnership with the Ochsner Health System. This school outperforms 77% of all Louisiana schools in serving economically-disadvantaged students. This is especially critical in Baton Rouge where nearly 80 percent of students are in this demographic. Discovery is seeking to expand their work into Baton Rouge and will leverage newly-built partnerships with the Baton Rouge Health District for students here in the capital city.

Detractors are pushing a false narrative that approving these schools is a complicated choice and are relying on excuses and technicalities. The reality is there’s a simple question that must be asked: Does the board believe the applicants’ successful records of serving students will expand opportunities for educational excellence in Baton Rouge? 

The opportunity gap for Baton Rouge students remains very real. Our city’s most in-demand schools continue to have waiting lists of more than 100 students each year. It is the board’s responsibility to ensure every Baton Rouge family has the ability to access a high-quality education in the school of their choice, and until this is the case, the board must continue to expand high-quality options.

Adonica Pelichet Duggan
CEO

Baton Rouge Alliance for Students issues statement on addressing learning loss.

Baton Rouge, La. (April 13, 2021) – Baton Rouge Alliance for Students CEO Adonica Pelichet Duggan issued the following statement today regarding pandemic-driven learning loss and the response by EBR Schools“Despite the often extraordinary efforts by teachers and families to educate Baton Rouge’s children during the pandemic, many students have lost ground amid school closures, virtual schooling, and the trauma of a global crisis. Many of the students who suffered the largest loss of learning are those who were already most underserved by the system. Our community cannot pass on the opportunity now before it to not only gain back lost ground, but to give our students a leg up in the race to narrow the achievement gap. When COVID-19 forced the closure of Baton Rouge schools in March 2020, few could have imagined the full impact the pandemic would have on so many aspects of our children’s lives. Over a year later, with vaccines in wide distribution, many signs point to the beginning of a recovery. But just as the health implications of COVID-19 have varied from community to community, some students’ education has been weakened more than others. Our most vulnerable students have suffered the most and education researchers from all sides of the political spectrum warn that, left unchecked, pre-existing achievement gaps stand to widen dramatically.A monumental amount of federal relief dollars have been targeted to helping school districts in Louisiana reverse the tide of learning loss that swept in with the pandemic. The level of federal aid available to districts – more than $1.3 billion statewide – gives EBR Schools the tremendous opportunity to not only return to normal, but to accelerate student improvement and set Baton Rouge on a path to greater and more equitable student outcomes than we have ever before been able to achieve. This moment of opportunity calls for bold action.With summer on the horizon, a strategic planning process ongoing, and incredible amounts of new funding available, EBR Schools has the chance to lay the groundwork for years of significant progress. Getting back to normal is not good enough. It is essential that funding is sought and allocated to address equity in education quality, provide comprehensive social-emotional tools for students, improve educator resources, and engage community partners in supporting the whole child. The pandemic quickly taught us that community organizations play an important role in supporting children and families’ needs, both in and out of school, and they have a vital part to play in addressing students’ needs in the recovery.The Louisiana Department of Education recently gave guidance on appropriate uses of federal funding by school districts. The comprehensive list highlights addressing both the unique needs and learning loss of low-income children, children with disabilities, English Learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and foster care youth. These priorities should be front-and-center in EBR Schools’ strategic plan. Families and teachers became more active partners in education during the pandemic, and that partnership must continue if we are to effectively mitigate the learning loss that took place for so many students and go beyond that to close the achievement gap that exists for so many more. The partnership born of necessity now has an opportunity to become solidified as we craft an ambitious shared vision of educational excellence for Baton Rouge students. EBR Schools is making moves to address these issues and we applaud the urgency with which it is taking action. We also know that success in this effort must include ongoing dialogue with families, educators and community partners, and must be more comprehensive, strategic, and intentional in order to achieve the outcomes we all want for Baton Rouge students.” https://bit.ly/2Rqww2C

The Baton Rouge Alliance for Students Announces Scholarship Opportunity for North Baton Rouge Public School Seniors

In partnership with ExxonMobil, the Baton Rouge Alliance for Students is offering North Baton Rouge high school seniors an opportunity to earn one of five $2,000 scholarships to aid in pursuing their post-secondary education. Applications are due April 30, 2021. To learn more and apply, visit: https://forms.gle/qu33pZY3puyxFfz76/. “The Alliance strives to work with families, communities, civic leaders, and policymakers to create a future in which every Baton Rouge student receives an excellent education,” said Adonica Pelichet Duggan, CEO of the Baton Rouge Alliance for Students. “We’re so pleased to partner with ExxonMobil to increase student access to post secondary opportunities in this meaningful way.” The scholarship program will support the Alliance’s mission of elevating student voice through use of an essay question asking applicants to give advice to policymakers about how their K-12 education experience could have been improved. Up to 10 finalists will be invited to participate in a short interview with members of the Alliance’s staff and Advisory Council, as well as one ExxonMobil representative. Eligible students are those who: Live in the 70805, 70802, or 70807 zip codes;Are seniors at a public district or charter school in EBR parish;Plan to pursue post-secondary education (credential or degree) in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) field; and, Have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Alliance Launch by our founder

I’m excited to announce the start of the next chapter in my professional story as I step into a new role as CEO of the Baton Rouge Alliance for Students In founding this organization, my goal is to help drive Baton Rouge toward a future in which parents, community and policymakers partner to achieve the shared goal of an excellent education for every Baton Rouge student. At the Alliance, we seek to empower families, elevate community, and engage leaders.I am honored to be joined by a team of professionals with a shared commitment to Baton Rouge’s students and the future of our city. I will be joined on the founding Baton Rouge Alliance for Students team by Chief Strategy Officer Liz Smith, Family Engagement Manager Aretha Veal and Strategic Communications Associate Anthony B. Kenney. Our goal is to bring a uniquely Baton Rouge approach to our role in moving Baton Rouge’s schools forward.I have spent the last 18 years of my career focused on public school students, families and stakeholders. I believe those experiences have been the building blocks that have helped shape my perspective and led me to this moment. I have always been proud of the fact that I attended k-12 in EBR public schools, and I am grateful that my EBR education opened doors of opportunity for me that I could not have imagined. Despite never envisioning this as my path, sometimes your destiny is inescapable. I come from a family of educators, the daughter of a retired public school teacher, and ours is a family story like so many others whose trajectory was dramatically impacted by access to quality education. But, I believe you shouldn’t have to be lucky enough to be born into the right family to access a great education. That is the core of the Alliance’s work. I believe that each of us has a purpose, and that the goal of education is to equip us with the tools to unlock the unique gifts we have to share with the world. I am a believer in the innate greatness of all children, and I am committed to our collective responsibility to ensure that every child has the chance to reach their God-given potential. As they say, talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. We must work to close the opportunity gap.Baton Rouge, like nearly every city, must acknowledge vestiges of its history of segregation and the impact of that legacy on educational options for our students. Families with means continue to access the best school offerings in the city, and while I will never begrudge them that opportunity, we need more of those opportunities to go around for all students regardless of income, race or geography. My daily goal is to amplify and respect the voice of families through real engagement and thoughtful conversation. Quality public education opportunities are vital to the growth of any community. The future of Baton Rouge is inextricably linked to equitable access to a great education for all of our students. Let’s get to work, Baton Rouge.