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Delmont Elementary Closes: Hired-gun Bernard Taylor to Blame

July 18, 2013

A MESSAGE FOR THOSE WHO ARE USING MY WORK TO SUPPORT AN EBR BREAKAWAY DISTRICT: I have learned that this post has been linked to a FB site advocating my stance on Taylor’s poor leadership as reason to break away and form a new district. Let me warn you that if this breakaway is something that John White supports, he has privatization in mind for you. That is what he does– he hands schools over to privatizers. He will lead you to believe that you are in control of your fate, but it is a lie.

Consider this: The only reason that there still exists an Orleans Parish Schools is that a constitutional amendment would have been required to completely obliterate OPSB for full state takeover of New Orleans. Moreover, if enough pro-privatizing individuals had been elected to the Orleans Parish School Board last election, there would have been a merger of Orleans and RSD to form one huge pro-privatizing district.

Watch for it in the future.

If you form a new district, White and his forces can go after you via school board election of pro-privatizers. That is how White was positioned as state superintendent: Jeb Bush used his political pull to finance the BESE elections in favor of privatization.

Be careful in your desire to break away. Weigh what I have written here.

–MKS

07/23/13

____________________________________________________

Below I have reblogged from dianeravitch.net a letter from Delmont Elementary School Principal Jill Saia regarding her district-sabotaged efforts at improving her school in order to keep it open. As is evident from her letter, her efforts were working. Thus, they required much counter-effort on behalf of those wishing to stop her. The letter is an eye-opening, informative account of the ed reform end-game of destroying the community school. East Baton Rouge Superintendent Bernard Taylor has established himself as the typical corporate reform hired gun. His time in Grand Rapids, Michigan yielded a job application that was supposed to include input from teachers and staff; however, the information was mysteriously missing (2009). His tax-sheltered annuity allowed him to get a raise even though his staff members had their salaries frozen for two years.  In 2011, Taylor resigned and sued the school system for $330,000 in severance. In 2013, he was awarded $280,000, despite his “autocratic management style and improper expensing of items like cell phone bills and car washes.”  He has the EBR school board in his pocket. He is able to create destabilizing churn in EBR by requiring numerous personnel changes and school closures.

As superintendent in Kansas City, MO (2001-06), Taylor closed schools.   In Michigan (2006-11), Taylor closed schools.  In his application to Orange County, FL (2011), he advertised his history closing schools.

Taylor wants to close schools, but he wants to do so on his terms. This makes for an interesting power play between Taylor and White; Taylor openly shuffles students to raise the school performance scores at schools he wishes for RSD to let alone. White prefers to allow districts to play the “ghost school” game by allowing districts to declare certain schools as “programs” rather than schools, thereby allowing such schools to have their own physical buildings while escaping having a school performance score. This allows these students’ scores to pad the scores of other schools– schools that these students do not actually attend. (Contact former LDOE employee Jason France at crazycrawfish.wordpress.com for more details on this duplicity.)

In June 2013, White made quite the indignant show at Taylor’s openly shuffling students:

State Superintendent of Education John White on Monday renewed his criticism of East Baton Rouge Parish School District officials for moving students to bolster scores at troubled public schools.

“We have to ask whether what they are doing is the right thing,” White said. “I would say it is not the right thing.” …

In April, White accused the district of moving children around district classrooms “to cover up problems in those schools.”

He called the practice “cynical, deeply disappointing and calls into question the genuineness of that leader’s desire for real change,” a reference on April 25 to Taylor. …

But Taylor said that, early in the process, district officials met with the state superintendent on the plans, held community meetings, took input and sent the plan to the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, which approved the changes during a televised meeting.

“So the point is what is surreptitious about that?” Taylor asked.

He also said that, late last year, district officials asked White about appearing before BESE to discuss the transfers.

Taylor said White told them such an appearance was not necessary because local officials did not have to get state permission.

White told reporters that East Baton Rouge Parish school officials are not breaking any rules but that the student transfers are wrong. [Emphasis added.]

What situational irony: One self-serving reformer in a public debate with another self-serving reformer over what it “right.”

Part of this “reshuffling” included 300 Delmont students. Make no mistake, however– this was not an effort to do right by Delmont. Taylor wants to close Delmont and turn it into a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten center. The shuffling of students is an effort to keep RSD away from the schools. However, White is not giving up. He sees RSD as having a right to Delmont and to another school, Mayfair.

What is certain is that life is over as they knew it for Delmont Elementary. The details of Saia’s letter reveal as much.

My original intention was to simply reblog the post from Ravitch’s blog. Yet I felt compelled to include details of Taylor’s history and information on the callous toying with the Delmont Elementary community by way of background.

I leave you with the words of Jill Saia and the sad beauty that was Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s, Delmont Elementary:

I have deleted the “Dream School” folder on my computer. I am hoping that enough time has passed since our school was closed that I can write about it clearly and rationally, even though what was done to us was neither clear nor rational. For the last ten years that folder on my computer has contained all our plans, hopes, and ideas for a school run by professional educators for children who need it most. We knew that if we could put the highest-quality team of teachers together that we could affect true change in the lives of children in an at-risk school.

Two years ago when I was given the opportunity to become principal of Delmont Elementary School, I cautiously accepted the position. You see, I never wanted to be a principal. My graduate work in Educational Administration and Supervision confirmed this for me: being a school principal was too stressful and too far removed from teaching and learning. So I finished my degree and became certified, although I was certain I would never use this credential.

After 28 years in public education, I was offered the chance to become the Instructional Leader of Delmont. This would give me the chance to put into practice everything I had learned about high quality instruction and ongoing professional development. The position had been very carefully designed so that I would have autonomy in decisions and would be able to focus my time on classrooms and instruction instead of administrative duties. I would never have accepted this position if those guidelines weren’t clear.

Those guidelines remained in place for about two months. I was able to hire a very skilled staff, six of whom were National Board Certified Teachers. But my request for an Assistant Principal and Dean of Students was denied, even though there was money in the budget for it. I very quickly encountered resistance at all my personnel suggestions, and it began to seem as though the district didn’t really want us to succeed. The next two years were the most rewarding of my educational career, but also the most disheartening.

A change in top-level leadership at the district caused the team that had written the plan for Delmont to be totally dismantled. The new administration did not seem to know or understand why we were designated a “turnaround school” and what that meant in terms of academic freedom. I started carrying the SIG plan around with me when I went to meetings so I could explain what we were trying to do and show what the guidelines spelled out. Yet I increasingly encountered resistance from the Director of Turnaround Schools, who was a former superintendent of the failing Recovery School District. Looking back on it now, I think that this was all by design; “leaders” in the Central Office really didn’t think we would be able to turn Delmont around, so they created obstacles to keep it from happening.

One such obstacle presented itself in our first year. After having spent the summer hiring a top-notch staff and building a collaborative team, the district swooped in on October 10 to move two teachers and one aide out of our building. My plea to stop this from happening fell on deaf ears, and I was even cited for insubordination when I tried to show them what the SIG plan said about staffing. (That we were entitled to additional staff because it was a turnaround effort). So we said goodbye to three valuable staff members, shuffled kids into new classes, and kept going.

We did not make tremendous progress on test scores in the first year. We did change the culture and climate of the school, increase enrollment, and foster a high level of parental involvement. At the end of our first year, we packed everything up and moved out, because the district had chosen to remodel our 60-year old building. It is hard work to pack up an entire school, but we hoped that the renovations would make for an even better learning environment.

We were allowed to move back in two days before school started. We began the move and the readjustment to new classrooms, then had to stop for a half-day district “convocation” called by our new Superintendent. After district officials, community leaders and politicians had all given us their “rah-rah!” speeches about what a terrific year it was going to be, we boarded our yellow school bus back to Delmont and got back to work getting set up for the first day of school. Office staff and I stayed until after 10:00 p.m. that night to make sure we had everything ready for kids and parents the next day.

What a joy when the kids returned on the first day of school! They were so excited to see all of us again, to know that we were still here, and now in brand new buildings and classrooms. Hugs and high fives everywhere, and all the hard work of the summer instantly paid off when we saw their smiles. These children had suffered through tremendous staff turnover in the past, and it took a toll on their academic achievement and emotional well-being.

There were still the usual battles with the central office, but we were finally granted our extended day program that was in the plan the first year, but that the district chose not to fund. In the second year we convinced them that it wasn’t really their choice not to do it – it was written in the federal grant. So after Labor Day (and after Hurricane Isaac, which caused us to lose a week of school), we began doing extended day four days a week, with half a day on Wednesdays for team meetings and professional development. This gave us extra time to do targeted interventions, and also time to meet with each other and plan collaboratively.

We began to turn the corner – more children were reading, asking questions, and flourishing. Less behavior problems, more time on task. Children were communicating with each other, with teachers, with staff. They understood what the parameters were for being a student at Delmont, and they rose to our challenges. We planted our vegetable garden, had choir concerts, and participated in the Kennedy Center for the Arts program to integrate arts into the curriculum. We partnered with the local hospital’s health program to host the “Big Blue Bus” every week, which provided medical and mental health care to children and families. We were awarded a sizable grant from a local foundation to adopt a parenting program, and worked with a local university to design a new playground.

Then in November things started changing. Our new Superintendent announced his “Family of Schools” plan, which restructured many of the schools in the district. He called me into his office for a meeting on the afternoon of the first community forum held to discuss the changes. He told me that he was going to close Delmont. I remember being so stunned that I couldn’t even react at first. We did not see this coming; we were on our way up. But Dr. Taylor didn’t want to hear that, didn’t want to be reminded of how much he loved our school when he visited earlier in the year, or how endearing the kids had been to him. This was a business decision, and he preferred to keep emotions out of it.

Much of our staff was in disbelief when I told them, and when they heard it later that evening at the forum. Many had been at Delmont for ten years or more, and had not planned on leaving. They loved the fact that Delmont was a true neighborhood school with a family atmosphere, and just couldn’t understand why or how that family could be disintegrated. And I had trouble explaining it, because honestly I still don’t know why this decision was made.

At the next set of community forums, the family of schools plan was tweaked, and Delmont was now going to remain open as a K-2 school. This of course would remove us from state scrutiny of test scores by getting rid of the high-stakes test grades. Then in the next proposal, Delmont was going to be a Pre-K center. This is the proposal that the school board voted for, which somehow changed before the next day to it being a PreK – K center.

The March School Board meeting had a packed agenda, and at around 9:00 p.m. they finally got to the item about Delmont. Several school board members spoke out about how much they supported our efforts, and knew that we were doing great work. But when the vote came, they all voted for the motion to turn Delmont into a PreK-K center. The Superintendent had successfully convinced them that we were going to be taken over by the state if they didn’t make this move. No mention was made of our 3-year SIG plan and the fact that we were only in year two…

The school board member representing the region Delmont is in declined to speak, and abstained from the vote.

On the Wednesday of state testing week, the district sent the deputy superintendent to Delmont to meet with parents and staff to tell them of the decision to close the school. Yes, in the MIDDLE of STATE TESTING WEEK! The insensitivity was astonishing. Parents who walk their children to school were the most upset, because the school that their children were now assigned to is three miles away. (It is also an “F” school), Teachers and staff members were assured that the district would do everything they could to find new positions for them, and that many of them would follow their students to the assigned school. No surprise here – not a single Delmont teacher or staff member has been hired at that school. They all found their own jobs, without help from the central office; many have moved out of state or at least out of the district.

As for me, well, because I stood up for my school and tried to keep it open, I was given another letter of insubordination. I was also rated “ineffective” at midyear because of my refusal to change my ratings of teachers to match their pre-identified quota in the value-added system. Their assumption was that if test scores were low, then the teachers must be ineffective. Therefore, I must not know how to evaluate teachers. I was placed on an Intensive Assistance plan. Two months later, I turned in four binders full of data, observations, meeting notes, mentor reviews, etc. My mentor was a local award-winning principal who was part of the original “Dream School” team. Needless to say, she loved Delmont and what we were doing there. She even brought her assistant principal with her on one visit so she could have another perspective. After looking at all of my documentation, the director said that it “looked complete”, but then a week later told me that I was still ineffective and would have to wait for his final evaluation.

I chose not to wait for that final evaluation. I began the job search, had several very promising interviews, but it soon became clear that no public school district in this area would hire me because of my track record in a “failed” school. I really wanted to stay in public schools, because it is where I have spent my entire career, and because I truly believe in them. But in this case the system let me down. After 29 ½ years in the state retirement system, I was looking at having to retire with less than full benefits – a sizable financial difference. And up until this last year, I have had a stellar record in public education. No blemishes, no letters, no confrontations.

I can’t begin to describe what this last year has done to both my physical and mental health. I have been bullied and blackballed, all because I stood up for the children and families that needed us most. I knew I could no longer work for a system that is so dysfunctional, whose superintendent has already threatened to quit a few times when he didn’t get his way. (He, by the way, does NOT have a stellar track record.) Our dream school turned into a nightmare.

I have now resigned from the district and accepted a position as Dean of Instruction at a public charter school about ½ mile from Delmont. Many of the parents have heard that I am here now, and have enrolled their children. This is a brand new facility with a young faculty and plenty of opportunities for me to build instructional leadership. Their test scores rose dramatically last year, and they have begun to stabilize after a few rocky starting years. I am looking forward to the challenges of this new school, but also can’t help but look back.

The two years at Delmont profoundly changed my life, and I would like to think that it changed the lives of some of the children. I cannot begin to describe the last week or day of school. It was a blur of tears, hugs, graduations, celebrations, and uncertainty. I moved through it on auto-pilot; no one ever trained me how to say goodbye to 400 students and families, not to mention a beloved staff. We are now all scattered – students to at least three different schools, and teachers and staff to many more. We vowed to keep up with each other, but I know that we will eventually move on.
By the way, test scores in year two were outstanding. While we don’t yet have a final SPS from the state, preliminary data from our chief of accountability show that we made AYP and would no longer be a “failing” school. Our fourth-graders had a 20% jump in the number of students rated proficient; the district average growth was 6%.

So, this is what “reform” has done; it has transformed our dream school into a nightmare. I hope that we all wake up from it soon in a better place, but I know that for a few years, there was no better place than Delmont.

6 Comments
  1. And there has to be more to this than meets the eye because Delmont was only in its second year of a three year SIG grant. It could not have been taken over by White for at least another year. Additionally, Taylor’s plan to close Delmont began long before the second year testing when he could have better determined the success or failure of that faculty’s efforts (although the idea that miracles happen quickly has been proven wrong by the RSD itself). No – Taylor has no interest in the future of the children. He is a different ego type than White but still apparently an egomaniac.

    My understanding of the law is that t children in failing schools have a right to be placed in another school that is not failing. I suppose this will take lawsuits (in this case possibly a class action by parents whose children are now assigned to another failing school.).

  2. stephgbeard@aol.com permalink

    Wow. Says it all, and very well. My heart just sank while reading her account. The elitists in our legislature, governor’s administration, and BESE need to be ousted. But money talks; doesn’t it? Right and wrong — ethics — do not matter, so long as one has power, control, and money. Thanks again for the work you are doing with your blog.

  3. Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Interesting account of the self-destruction wrought on an EBR school by the parish superintendent by Dr. Mercedes Schneider. She is keeping very busy this summer keeping us all in the loop. I guess this explains why Bernard Taylor has refused to return my calls or e-mails.

  4. Nancy Betts permalink

    I was the secretary at Delmont immediately following Katrina when we received in influx of students from New Orleans. I worked there until the end of the 2012 school year. I was very disturbed to hear the things that Mr. Taylor was doing. Many of Delmont’s students attended the school from Pre K or K all the way through 5th grade. The teachers, administrators, and staff cared deeply not only about the students, but their families as well., We knew the Moms, Dads, Grandparents, aunts, and sometimes even the uncles. Delmont Elementary was an anchor in the community. How sad for everyone that is has been closed.

  5. Dear Dr. Schneider,

    I write to you with some trepidation as I have great respect for you, your blog, and your perspective on the challenges confronting public education here in Louisiana, and I do not want to offend or alienate you. And before I continue Id like to say I have some concerns regarding East Baton Rouge Superintendent Bernard Taylor, but that being said I’m truly disheartened by your post regarding Delmont Elementary.

    The closing of Delmont is certainly nothing to celebrate, but I sincerely believe the situation must be understood within the context of our complicated situation here in East Baton Rouge Parish. Superintendent Bernard Taylor is not beyond reproach but the characterization of him “as the typical corporate reform hired gun” is unfair. He deserves criticism, yes, but demonizing him only plays into the hands of State Supt. John White and furthers Whites apparent intention of not just taking over Delmont but our entire district.

    Supt. White’s criticism of Supt. Taylor’s family of schools plan is related to his attempt to help Louisiana State Senator Bodi White to create an independent school district in a predominantly white and more affluent area of East Baton Rouge parish. The creation of this proposed district would not only further segregate our schools. It would also unfairly saddle the remaining school district with debt and further inhibit EBRPSS’ ability to improve education opportunities for its students and meet the flawed accountability standards. The district that would remain would have a higher concentration of students living in poverty and a higher percentage of schools designated as failing. It puts our entire district one step closer to being taken over by the state and chartered. Supt. White knows this. New Schools for Baton Rouge, an organization funded by Whites LDOE, is waiting in the wings to do just that. It is here in Baton Rouge currently recruiting charter operators to take over our schools, including Delmont and Mayfair Middle.

    I have heard many wonderful things about Principal Jill Saia, but it appears Supt. White has successfully played this situation to further his objectives, which ironically are all that you oppose. If you doubt, take a look at the Facebook page of Local Schools for Local Children, the proponents of the independent school district here in East Baton Rouge Parish (https://www.facebook.com/SEBRSchools). There is a link to your blog post there. Here is their introduction: This article tells you everything you need to know about Superintendent Bernard Taylor. It makes you wonder about those that have alined [sic] themselves with him to maintain the status quo of failure in EBR Schools.

    As I stated earlier, Supt. Taylor is not beyond reproach. I dont agree with everything he does. I certainly dont agree with the way he handles every situation. But I do believe he is sincerely trying to save our district against real and immediate threats. His plan is not an attempt to undermine the efforts of dedicated educators such as Principal Saia. Nor is he simply trying to shuffle students around to avoid state takeover. He is sincerely trying to save our district.

    I hope you will reconsider revisiting the issues confronting EBRPSS and consider the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Delmont Elementary in the light of the myriad of challenges we are confronting. Id be happy to meet with you to discuss this issue further. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are willing. You may email me or call me at 225-907-3527.

    Sincerely, Tania Nyman, Vice President One Community One School District

    • Tania, thank you for your response. No need to worry about alienating me.

      That said, based on what I have researched about Bernard Taylor, I do not believe he has the best interest of Delmont at heart. He should have supported Saia. She had a plan and was following that plan. As to John White, he will play my words as best he can. He is a schemer; that is how he works. However, if there is a link to my work, it also exposes his “ghost school” issue, one that he has tried hard to conceal. And if people who support the independent school district read more on my blog about White’s history, they should become skeptical of any plan that he would support.

      I will include a note on this blog entry specifically aimed at the EBR independent school district group.

      Yours,

      –Mercedes Schneider

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