School Turnaround Training Program Announced in Louisiana

Superintendent of Louisiana schools John White has announced that a $5 million federal grant will be used to train teachers who are interested in working in turnaround schools in the state. The money will cover a year of intensive training for interested educators who will then take on leadership roles at schools most in need of intervention.

This use for the “Believe and Succeed” grants is part of White’s 5-step program for 2013, and he has said that he expects the participation rates in the new initiative to be low at first with only a few teachers submitting applications to compete for the $50,000 grants.

Still, the program could be a remedy for nearly 200,000 Louisiana students currently enrolled in failing schools. Expansion of charter schools has gone some way towards relieving the crush, but according to NOLA.com, not enough of them are currently operating to take over the full load. The training program will either serve as a stop-gap while more charters ramp up to speed, or as an alternative approach to turn around a failing school system.

State figures released in January show that 7 percent of the state’s schools are charters. And viewing charters as only way to turnaround a failing school also shuts out some would-be reformers, White said. For the winning grant recipients, the state education department is recommending five principal training programs: Building Excellent Schools, Columbia Summer Principals Academy NOLA, Leading Educators, New Leaders and the New Teacher Project. Most are open only to participants in the greater New Orleans and Baton Rouge regions. However, applicants may also choose other training programs or design their own.

With the newly-trained leaders at the helm, White said that he expects the new schools to be run autonomously with minimal district interference similar to charters. Among the freedoms allowed will be complete control over personnel, budget, and curriculum.

The districts that would like a say on selecting the candidates for training will have to kick in part of the training cost. The program isn’t limited to individuals, and is open to non-profits and charter operating companies as well.

However, district approval isn’t necessary. In that case, the department will increase the grant amount to cover the entire cost of the training plus a year’s salary for the future school leader. Most independent applicants will be matched down the line with failing schools that want change, possibly in a different district. Or candidates may be directed to create a brand-new school through the charter system.

The deadline to submit application for those who wish to be part of the first training class is April 26th of this year.