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