Ed Reform: A Journey from Opponent to Cheerleader

It has been attempted by many, but there really is no way to clearly illustrate what is the actual end result that education reformers desire. Ed reform is many things to many people. Those in favor of it like to throw around key phrases such as “school choice,” “teacher accountability,” and “workforce development.” Those who oppose ed reform stand firm in their belief that school choice means converting tax dollars to profit, teacher accountability means driving good experienced teachers out to make room for less expensive teachers and workforce development means dumbing down the general population in public schools and leaving the best education for the elite upper class.

While many teachers are afraid to speak out, it is still true that the majority of public school teachers, and the communities in general, are opposed to education reform; however, a small percentage of educators flip over to the other side of the debate. It isn’t perfectly clear what the motivations are, but we feel certain that while it is certainly driven by financial opportunities, it is accompanied by an effort to avoid, or do away with, certain issues. In the following paragraphs, we will attempt to illustrate this.

Jerry-Louis-Franklin4-Rev-201x300Over the last decade and a half, there has been several attempts by the local school board to approve moving forward with the process of seeking unitary status, or recognition from federal courts that the parish has met the desegregation requirements from a major lawsuit filed in the 1960s. Each time, it has been met with strong opposition from the representatives of the black community. In 2010, Rev. J.L. Franklin voiced his opinion at a school board meeting and suggested that the board was in denial about under-performing schools and that seeking unitary status would just result in more discrimination. Keith Leger, assistant principal of SJ Welsh Middle School, (one of the schools busing out-of-zone students to comply) responded with a letter to the editor published on February 14th, 2010. The following quotes come directly from the letter, and here is a link to the Original Document.

“Clearly, Franklin has little or no idea what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a school administrator. He has not experienced the joys of a student and his/her respective teacher(s) who achieves an academic goal. He has not experienced the frustration of dealing with a parent who has no regard for his/her child’s lack of self-discipline. He has not experienced the sadness of dealing with a student who is being verbally, physically, or sexually abused at home or one who comes to school in the same dirty uniform for days.”

He continues on and addresses Franklin’s concern that Calcasieu didn’t take advantage of Race To The Top funds to address the under-performing schools. Accepting the funds had many requirements.

“Regarding the “Race to the Top” grant rejection, I am grateful to both the superintendent and board. Based on history, many federal grants come with unfunded mandates and unrealistic expectations. We have highly successful systems in place already that allow us to track and analyze student performance, attract and retain good teachers, and follow state-developed grade level expectations.

Unlike most industries, our “raw material” is not delivered to us in standardized measures. In the public school system, we receive students with a range of issues including abusive home lives, extreme poverty, physical, mental, and learning disabilities. Anyone with any classroom experience knows that talents and deficiencies of students vary widely among class periods much less year to year. It is unfair to teachers to base their pay using student performance evaluation systems.”

Keith LegerNow, that sounds like an experienced educator with his finger on the pulse of the issues that teachers and administrators have to face; however, his efforts failed. In the end, the board did not approve moving forward with seeking unitary status. Shortly after this letter was published, the Louisiana legislature began to implement the education reform bills that were necessary to qualify for the RTTT funds, and realizing the budget woes they would face, the local board complied with the mandates.

It took almost two years for the new teacher evaluations that resulted from this legislation to go into effect. The new law required that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on observations in the classroom; the other 50%, on the results of their students’ statewide assessments. On October 7, 2012, another letter written by Leger was published in the local newspaper, but with a slightly different tone. Original Document

“I believe that the teacher evaluation system is a step in the right direction. While this evaluation system is far from perfect, it creates opportunities for educators to receive valuable feedback on their performance and abilities with the best interest of the students in mind.”

Wait! What? Where did that anti-reform, I’ve been in the trenches, administrator go? Somehow, sometime between February 2010 and October 2012, this Calcasieu Parish administrator turned coat. Hmm? Maybe not. At this point, this is most likely posturing by an ambitious opportunist who wants to portray that he can facilitate the changes coming down the pike. Fast forward to the very next month where it is apparent that he hasn’t bought in, yet, and apparently hasn’t realized the connection between these two issues.

At this time, the Lake Charles Charter Academy board was attempting to have a South Lake Charles area rezoned in order to open a new charter high school. Again, Leger spoke out with two letters to the editor published on October 14th, and November 5th, of 2012. 1st 1st Original Document. 2nd Original Document.

“What is the real reason behind the charter board’s insistence of building the new charter school in south Lake Charles?”

Leger opens his letter with the previous question. After referencing a few comments made by Judge Gene Thibodeaux, he continues.

Based on a conversation with a charter school employee, it’s my understanding that an overwhelming majority of the charter school’s current students live outside a five mile radius from the desired location in south Lake Charles. Why would the charter board want to locate the school so far away from its current students? Why not build near the I-10 Chloe exit for a much easier commute and to attract students from surrounding parishes as their charter suggests? What exactly is the long-term plan? Do they realize how much of a hardship they would be placing on their parents who would be driving through several crowded school zones in south Lake Charles twice per day?”

Basically, what he is saying is instead of doing the same thing the two local schools are doing and busing your children all the way across town, build something close to your community. Here, Leger expresses his real concern.

“This proposed charter school will not be a neighborhood school. None of the surrounding elementary or middle schools are classified as failing. Therefore, it is logical to presume that most students who are accepted will be driven in from outside the surrounding area.

Currently, the charter school doesn’t provide buses for their students. Imagine what Nelson Road would look like in the mornings with almost 900 additional vehicles? Residents who live near or travel through the proposed school zone would experience tremendous difficulty commuting through that area which would have a reduced school zone speed limit.

It is plausible that many charter parents will become impatient with traffic congestion and would resort to dropping off and picking up their children in nearby subdivisions. There are no sidewalks in this area. Those students would be walking alongside a busy highway or on private property creating substantial liability risks for homeowners.”

We should note that the “neighborhood” that Leger is referring to is his own neighborhood. The upscale development that Leger resides in, Crestview, is right in the path of the route to the proposed site. Basically, what he saying is that the students attending from “outside of the area” will be walking the streets of his neighborhood, and that is unacceptable. Charter schools are great; but, not in my neighborhood.

In February 2014, Leger goes on the record as an official Common Core (CCSS) supporter, and fledgling reformer, by being interviewed in the American Press along with representatives of two non-profit organizations that receive millions of dollars from the Gates and Walton Foundations; Carrie Monica Griffin of Stand for Children and Barry Irwin of the Council for a Better Louisiana. In the interview, Leger clearly has been drinking cool-aid. Original Document

“Leger said he has backed the CCSS from the beginning because it requires students to think critically and use problem-solving skills. According to Leger, effective teachers would agree that they want students to understand the material and not just memorize it.

Leger said Common Core is similar to homes being built according to the same building codes, but that the homes are tailored to our specific needs.”

In January of the following year, Leger retired from his assistant principal job at SJ Welsh and went to work full-time as a “project manager” for Stand for Children and supervisor of the “teacher leader educators” or “All Stars” which is a group of teachers who were selected, and compensated, by the LDOE to promote, support and implement Common Core. It appears that some members of this group were also compensated by Stand for Children and A+PEL, the “non-union” teacher organization that supports ed reform. In fact, the majority of the teacher leaders were A+PEL members.

TruthSince his retirement, Leger has become one of the most recognized names and faces in the battle for control of our school systems. Not because of his accomplishments. On the contrary. Because he has “swerved off course and has become an ineffective farmer.” The very same administrator who stood up and spoke out against the destruction of the public school system, now criticizes teachers and complains to their administrators for doing the very same thing. He publicly ridicules parents who voice their concerns about the psychological effects that these changes are having on their children, and he writes letters the employers of people who use his own tactics against him. Fortunately, these people have been very vocal, and their employers know who he is and support their employees.

Now, serving as the sole member of the “Calcasieu Team” for the District 7 BESE member seeking re-election, Leger continues his unprofessional tactics. He injects himself into situations that aren’t his concern and attempts to up the ante. He has become toxic to any cause that he is involved in, including his candidate’s campaign. He has attempted to discredit Mike Kreamer, the BESE District 7 candidate who has garnered wide-spread support from teachers and community members, by saying he is supported by the teacher unions, and the unions support Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood. Well, of course, the unions back him. He is an educator with the best interests of children in mind. The $2500 contribution he received is virtually nothing compared to the $400,000 that his candidate has received from Michael Bloomberg and Eli Broad. By the way, Bloomberg’s foundation contributed $50 million to Planned Parenthood, and Bloomberg and Broad, together, have contributed millions of dollars to enact, or prevent the repeal of, gun control laws. Tit for tat? Not so. It is more like a teeter-totter leaning much further in our favor.

A very credible and respected person once commented to the editors of this blog that each and every person fighting tooth and nail for these atrocities was promised something in return. What is your return, Leger? Whatever it is. Is it worth being the villain and being despised by nearly every household in the parish, save the handful of friends you still have?