Art Education in EBR Parish and How Volunteers are Making an Impact

Graduation rates and testing scores have been on a steady rise for the past decade in Louisiana schools. Despite drastic changes in education in the past year, students are still improving test scores and nearly 60% of Louisiana public school students went straight from graduation to college in 2014, according to

One piece of the holistic education puzzle is not advancing like the others, though. The percentage of schools in the US that employ full-time arts specialists to teach music has decreased over the past decade, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The number of arts specialists employed full-time to teach visual arts, such as drawing and painting, has inched its way from 55% to 63% in the past decade according to the U.S. Department of Education. Though this combination of national and local statistics seem to be comparing apples and oranges, a closer look at the budget brings the issues closer to home. Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.16.24 PM.png

You won’t find visual and performing arts funding easily in the General Fund Budget by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Funding for art in EBR public schools is integrated into the financial summary through other items such as contract services, according to EBR Parish School Board Fine Arts Director Wayne Talbot. Funding is integrated in such a way that it is seemingly impossible to determine the amount of funding because “it’s so detailed and linear because of the way the finance department does everything,” Talbot said.


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page 76 of the EBR 2015-2016 General Fund Budget


Musical art programs receive clear funding in the general budget. During the 2014-2015 school year music programs, materials and supplies for the music department and repairs and maintenance for music supplies received more than $350,000 in funding.

Visual art programs such as the EBR Arts Partnership Program and professional development for full-time visual art teachers are included in funding for contract services. The EBR Arts Partnership Program has partnered with the Manship Theater to, “send teaching artists into the schools,” Talbot said. The program also hosts an after-school orchestra and choral music program and integrates performances with learning. A contract was made with the Manship Theater in which the East Baton Rouge School Board paid $80,000 for supplies, artists and administration fees, and performance tickets. The contract was included in the general budget for the 2015-2016 school year and was approved.

Generally, the way funding allocated for visual arts is spent is determined at the school level, Talbot said. Leaders of the individual school communities receive funding from the school system but determine amongst themselves the amount of time and money spent on arts education, according to Talbot. Louisiana is among 25 states that require credits in the arts for graduation. However, there is no assessment of student learning in the arts, which is a requirement in 17 states. Further, the state does not specify arts education as a requirement for schools to be accredited nor does it require art instruction to be offered at the high school level.

Arts integration is a crucial part of the curriculum at Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, an elementary school with some of the highest test scores in the parish. Integrating visual arts, such as drawing and painting, and performing arts, such as music and theater, are key for in-depth understanding according to BRCVPA principal Candice Hartley. Many schools receive grants from various organizations to fund art programs in schools, Talbot said. However, the concern lies in schools with low test scores, who may be focused on raising test scores more than art education. One Baton Rouge high school student took matters into her own hands to make sure that students attending failing or low-income schools have a place, time and the resources to create art.

University Laboratory School senior Erin Phelps recognized the importance of art in her own academic success and started an after school art program, Art Night, in collaboration with Live2Serve. Live2Serve is a Christian organization that reaches out into impoverished areas of Baton Rouge and ministers to families by providing sports and outreach programs. Live2Serve is integrated into the community and provides a safe haven for neighborhood kids.

While trying to determine a community service project for her senior year, Phelps was inspired by a low-budget arts program she volunteered at during a mission trip to Guatemala.

Phelps decided she wanted to, “bring art to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to create art,” she said. Phelps enlisted the help of her friend Meyer Willson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for her project. Phelps depended solely on donations and local musicians’ willingness to volunteer. “I called these people,” Phelps said, “and just had to tell them ‘look I can’t pay you.” Local musicians and businesses were eager to help and donate. The benefit raised over $1,000 to jump-start the program, which is more than Phelps imagined possible, she said.11866502_10204477132631887_4559716375730436176_n.jpg

Each Monday night Phelps and Willson hosted an Art Night for any students that wanted to come. Phelps admitted that the first Monday of the program she was nervous that no students would show up for it. To her surprise, students from age 4-15 came and continued coming each Monday. Phelps made it a point not to have a curriculum for the Art Night program. She explained that the purpose was to encourage students to, “explore art and give them a space to just create,” Phelps said.

11935084_10204563065100145_2474214770796796402_n1.jpgThe art night program was only expected to last for the Fall semester of 2015, but the success of the program drew in other volunteers and is still offered by Live2Serve on Mondays from 6:15-8:15 pm. For more information on Live2Serve click here.


Erin Phelps and her friend D’Shayla with Meyer Willson at Art Night






As BR FLAIM Expands, Polk Elementary Will Fade

The EBR School Board approved the establishment of Baton Rouge Foreign Language Immersion Magnet (BRFLAIM) Upper at Polk Elementary for Pre-K and grades 3-5 for the 2016-17 school year. After numerous parents and faculty took the podium during the meeting to voice concerns for “traditional students” at Polk Elementary, the Board voted 8-0 in favor of the proposal. Traditional students are those that attended Polk Elementary before the 2014 implementation of the BRFLAIM program or those that are in the attendance zone. BRFLAIM is a language immersion Magnet program, which has expanded in such a way that students need to be split between Primary and Upper locations. Polk Elementary has been below the 250-student threshold needed to financially maintain the school since 2008, according to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Michelle Clayton.

“It seems that it makes sense… so that each school gets what it needs,” explained board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson. BRFLAIM saved Polk Elementary from being taken over by the state, according to Ware-Jackson. A petition signed by 30 opposing parents was read aloud by Daphne Batiste, who has a grandson that attends Polk Elementary. Parents such as Vicki
Dosan urged board members to, “consider these precious children,” referring to Polk Elementary’s “traditional” students. Parents in support of Polk Elementary argued that the attendance zoning and inability for the school to accept new students has crippled the school. However, only 124 students would attend Polk Elementary if traditional school zones were restored, Clayton said. Monicke Baker, who works in the office at Polk Elementary, said she turns parents away each day and feels that Clayton’s estimate is too low.

Parental support for BRFLAIM was just as strong as parental support for Polk Elementary. Christina Bradford, a mother of a BRFLAIM student, expressed her gratitude for the program because her husband’s first language is Spanish and hers is English, and through BRFLAIM her son is able to communicate with both of his parents in their first language.

Other parents were on the fence about the proposal, such as Jillian Ray. Ray explained that her family moved to Lafayette where her son attended another language immersion school. The family moved back within months because of FLAIM and the people at Polk Elementary, Ray said.

The Polk Elementary campus is currently underutilized and both enrollment and leap scores were declining before the FLAIM program was implemented, according to Clayton. Current Polk Elementary students will stay through matriculation and by 2020 all traditional students will be gone, Clayton said. BRFLAIM enrollment is expected to grow to more than 600 students with the utilization of Polk Elementary’s campus. The plan is to go into effect in August of 2016.

School Board Meeting April 21st

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board will consider budget revisions at a regular meeting on Thursday. Executive Director for School Leadership Stacey Dupre has submitted a request for over $100,000 to be included in the Adult Education Parish Prison Budget. This budget change, if approved, will be effective through December 2016. Another budget revision is for the College and Career Readiness Support grant. This grant will provide over $200,000 towards college and career services to high school students.

The Board will also decide whether it will grant Staff the authority to advertise, accept bids and award a contract for the relocation and set up of 4 buildings at Broadmoor Elementary and the demolition of 2 buildings, as well as the demolition of one building at Shenandoah Elementary.

There will also be recognition of schools selected as Magnet Schools of Distinction by the Magnet Schools of America. Magnet Schools of America has also chosen principal and teacher of the year, who will be presented during the meeting. The Barnes & Noble My Favorite Teacher contest will recognize Rhonda Ware from Woodlawn High School. Ware was nominated by her student Kensy Rivera.

The meeting will be located at 1050 S. Foster Drive beginning at 5 pm. A full agenda of the meeting can be found here: Agenda 04.21.16. For live coverage of the meeting, follow @BTheJournalist on twitter.

Raising the Bar-Why Your Child Might Not Be ‘Proficient’ Anymore

Louisiana students’ test scores show an average amount of discrepancy between state-generated and national test scores, relative to the other 10 states that administered the test. Every state experienced a drop in the number of students deemed proficient by state-generated exams compared to the national exam.  In a ranking from highest test score discrepancy to lowest among 10 states, Louisiana sits at number 5, just behind Mississippi.ELA Disc. Ranking.jpgMath Disc. Ranking.jpg

The 2014-2015-school year was the first year that Louisiana students took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test. Students in grades 3-8 were administered the exam, which reflects the academic standards set by Common Core.

Historically, each state has been responsible for the creation of the standardized test administered as well as setting the standards students must meet to be considered “proficient.” Louisiana students took the iLeap, a state-generated test, for over a decade. Some states made their tests easy or set standards low so that more students would score in the proficient category although many students would score significantly lower on national exams and entered college requiring remedial help, according to The New York Times.

Louisiana considered students scoring “basic” or above as proficient while many other states and national exams only consider students scoring “mastery” and “advanced” as proficient. State Education Superintendent John White said the score needed to pass the iLeap test remained “well below true proficiency” according to an interview with him done by Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.30.39 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-04-14 at 2.30.50 PM.png

Sixty-nine percent of Louisiana’s students were deemed overall proficient by the iLeap exam during the 2014-2015 school year, but only 24% of those students scored in mastery or above on the same test, according to This change alone would cause a large discrepancy in the number of students deemed proficient on the exact same test. The National Assessment of Educational Progress considers only mastery and above as passing, which is the standard used in grading the PARCC test.

Common Core has received public criticism from parents, politicians and teachers. The most public backlash came from previous Governor Bobby Jindal who tried to remove the program altogether. Common Core was implemented suddenly, with every teacher designing a new curriculum to align with the standards. The problem is not with the new standards or curriculum, “the implementation was what the problem was,” according to Candice Hartley, the principal of Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts. BRCVPA has an average of 70% of their students scoring in the “mastery” category in more than one subject.

The changing of the standards and revamping of curriculums across the state has caused frustration with parents. Parents are less able to help students with homework than in the past. John Loflin, the assistant principal at BRCVPA, said, “kids would bring home their work and you can’t help them because that’s not the way you learned.” Parents generally don’t have the mindset or the time to sit down and figure out the new problems because, “it’s not cut and dry anymore,” according to Loflin.

“It was rolled out and implemented,” Hartley said, “in a way that was not fair to children or teachers.” Students at BRCVPA, especially the younger ones, have had success with the program, according to Hartley. However, for the students in sixth through eighth grade, Hartley said, “you’ve got sixth graders who have not been introduced to these standards, they didn’t have the foundation.” If the implementation had been different, there would have been less pushback from teachers, parents, and students, Hartley said.

The Common Core standards and this method of testing allow students to be, “better able to pick up in another school and at least make connections to what they’ve learned in the past,” Academic Dean of BRCVPA Sidney Hebert said. Common Core standards and testing make it easier for students who are transient between schools, and even states, to be able to learn more efficiently, Hebert said.

The discrepancy in scores between the iLeap and PARCC tests is alarming when looking at the numbers alone. Some states, such as Maryland and Arkansas had nearly 50% more students scoring as proficient on the state-generated test than on the PARCC. Regardless, Hebert encourages students, parents and teachers to “stick with it” because, “if everybody is on the same page with teaching number sense and conceptual mathematics, kids will be, no matter where they go, better able to pick up in another school.”

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An interactive version of this map and individual states’ scores can be found here.


The collaborative component of Common Core is among the most important concepts emphasized by the standards. “We’re going to see some great things happening in our country,” Hartley said, “as a result of the fact that kids have been working together from a very young age.” Other important concepts students are taught using the standards are to, “problem solve and persevere,” according to Hartley.


It All Starts With a Smile

Candice Hartley, the principal of Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, starts

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Hartley coaxing a student to get the day started with a smile

each day greeting her 445 students, and their parents, with a smile as they arrive on campus.  She makes it a point to be on morning duty each morning because, “regardless of what happened between home and school, I want them to know when they get here it’s a safe place and people are excited to see them” she said.

Hartley joined the United States Marine Corps when she graduated high school in 1998. She lived overseas in Japan and Korea, where she volunteered in the schools on base. She was later stationed at Camp Pendleton, California where she volunteered in “low performing, low poverty schools” once a week.  It was through volunteering that she fell in love with teaching and “saw the loss of relationships between educators and students,” which drives her passion for developing relationships with students to foster learning. 

123.pngOnce her military service ended, she attended Louisiana State University. Hartley graduated in 2006 with a Bachelors degree in elementary education and began teaching for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. She has been in education for 10 years, as a teacher, in working with the State Department of Education, as an assistant principal and now as a principal.

Hartley originally fell in love with teaching children, but then “found that there was a need for developing educators.” Hartley noticed that teachers were not well prepared because they often graduate from college and are immediately “thrown into the classroom” as educators. Hartley discovered that she would be able to reach more students by helping professionally develop educators. Her passion changed from teaching children to teaching adults and “empowering teachers to be the best that they can be.”

Hartley alludes to her military background when describing her passion for empowering teachers. She applies the principle “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” by taking teachers who are struggling and helping them figure out what they’re good at in order to, “empower them to become better educators.”

Although her focus now is on educating teachers, she still shows an abundance of love for her students. Her genuine concern for each student is obvious through her presence at (nearly) every school function, and even appearances at students’ performances that are outside of school. Her presence at an event is her way of letting students and parents know that she supports that program and feels as if it’s important, she said. Her dedication to her students is also evident in the hours she spends on campus. “I feel like I should be the first one on campus,” she says, “and I feel like I should be the last one to leave every day.”

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Hartley stops to tie two students’ shoes during our walk around the school

As we walk down a row of classrooms she peaks in a window and waves at a fourth-grade art class. “Those are my babies,” she says nodding at two fourth-grade boys who are smirking at her through the window. “The sassy ones are my favorite,” she smiles, “because I can always break them by the end of the year and they are just the sweetest.”

Despite the 2015-2016 school year being her first as principal at BRCVPA, Hartley has developed a personal relationship with each student, as well as their parents.

I watched in the office as a few parents signed in late students and Hartley greeted each of them by name and with a smile. A student came in with a tired, grumpy look on his face. “Oh, he usually doesn’t really wake up until around ten,” she says as she pinches his cheeks. Another boy files in the door behind him. Hartley sees his fat, protruding backpack and unzips it, “you read all of these library books every night?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him. He nods yes and gives a facetious smile, then promises he will return a few of them.

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Hartley and a student wave goodbye to his parents in the carpool line

Hartley came into her position as principal at BRCVPA amidst some controversy. In December of the 2014-2015 school year, Mark Richterman retired from his position as principal after a petition was formed by parents in response to his proposal to eliminate the visual arts program at the school. The proposal came when Ritcherman was faced with cutting 8% of the school’s $2 million budget, according to The Advocate.

Hartley’s approach to solving past trust issues between parents and BRCPV administration is to, “be as transparent as possible.” Parental involvement is a huge factor in the success of the school, Hartley says. “The parent-teacher relationship is so important,” Hartley explains, “because we’re expecting parents to do a whole lot more at home academically so that we can provide experiences here at school.” Students are enriched by experiences such as the ballet, the symphony, performances, and variety shows. March 10 was the only day this month that was considered a “full instructional” day, Hartley noted.

The potential loss of the visual arts program is now old news, as Hartley confirms, “I’m a big believer in arts integration.” When asked about her goals and initiatives as principal, Hartley never mentioned test scores, despite BRCVPA having some of the highest in the parish. Her daily and overall initiative is, “teaching the whole child.” “You’ve got to teach the child socially, emotionally, academically and artistically,” to properly educate and enrich a child, Hartley said.

BRCVPA Bench.jpgHartley is excited to implement a program next year called “Manners of the Heart” in order to address students social and emotional educational needs. Hartley describes the program as, “all about self-respect.” When speaking about the future, Hartley wants to, “continue to make sure that we implement an academically enriched curriculum” at BRCVPA in order to push every student to be their best.

Remaining positive is Hartley’s biggest initiative with students, teachers and parents. Her passion for educating students and teachers is deeply rooted and genuine. Although many educators and parents would like to “focus on what we can’t do,” Hartley said she likes to, “focus on the positives, and what we can do.” Hartley looks forward to furthering relationships with students, parents, and teachers to continue improving BRCVPA’s students academically, socially, emotionally and artistically.

Arson Suspected in House Fire

The Baton Rouge Fire Department responded to a vacant house that caught fire Sunday afternoon. The house was located near the Burger King in the 7600 block of Staring Ln. Arson is expected, according to the Baton Rouge Fire Department, which is investigating the incident. The damage caused to the home is considered a total loss. The Burger King next door evacuated its employees and experienced minor damage from the heat. Flames were, “pouring out of the home” according to WAFB news anchor Elizabeth Vowell. WAFB featured a video during their 10 o’clock airing, which can be viewed here.

EBR School Board Regular Meeting

A crowd of parents, students, and teachers gathered yesterday evening for the recognition of the Students of the Year. Samhita Rao from BRMHS won Student of the Year for the high school division, her third time winning the award. Rao was Student of the Year during her time in elementary and middle school.  Amy Ruckman from McKinley Middle was selected for the middle school division and Dylan Harms Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts was selected for the elementary school division.


Each year dozens of students are nominated by teachers for a Student of the Year Award. Once they are nominated, students must then write an essay and are interviewed. Then the finalists are named and they have to write another essay, from which a winner is chosen.

The consideration of a request for authorization to request qualifications for architects was approved, moving forward the destruction and reconstruction of Broadmoor Elementary School. The renovations will solve a drainage problem the school has been facing. Members of the board and audience discussed where students from Broadmoor will be relocated during the 2-year long project. Board member Dr. Jacqueline Mims expressed opposition to sending students to Valley Park Elementary when Melrose or Capitol Elementary are both closer options. Board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson said, “let’s ask them,” referring to students and parents, in regards to where students should be relocated.

More than 350 students will receive glasses today thanks to Health Centers in Schools and Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. While not on the agenda, Superintendent Warren Drake spent a few moments discussing this operation because of its impact on students. Transportation is provided for students that have been pre-screened by school nurses and glasses will be made on site. Special equipment has been made available so that students can be tested by local ophthalmologists and walk away with glasses today. The equipment is housed in a van, which will be parked at the School Board Office all day.

ExxonMobil representative Ken Miller received a Superintendent’s Medal for, “tremendous service” and being a “superior corporate partner” according to Superintendent Drake. ExxonMobil has funded programs and spent more than 40,000 volunteer hours in local schools in the past year. Their current focus is STEM enhancement, workforce development and getting volunteers into classrooms. Programs like “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” and Science Days at Louisiana Arts and Sciences Museum (LASM), which more than 30 local schools participate in, are all thanks to ExxonMobil’s efforts.

Miller spoke about a program started in Dallas by ExxonMobil that made its way to Baton Rouge.  LSU was one of the first colleges to adopt the GoTeach program. Known as UTeach by most universities, this program helps provide teacher certification to STEM majors without any additional time or financial constraints. It is estimated that 5 million students have already been touched by this program, Miller said. Their goal is to expand the number of students enrolled in AP classes as well as AP pass rates because high AP test scores provide the, “strongest correlation to students finishing college,” according to Miller.

A Community Forum will be held Tuesday, March 8 at Woodlawn High School from 6-8pm. The Community Forum provides a platform for students, parents, and teachers to express support and opinions regarding any School Board matters. The last Community Forum was a success and is a great way to hear the voices of the community, according to Superintendent Drake.

The next regular meeting will be held on Thursday, March 17 at 5 pm at 1022 S. Foster Dr. The renovations being made to the usual School Board meeting room will be finished in 2 months, but until then all meetings will be held in the Instructional Resource Center next door. Live tv coverage was not available because of the location, but will be made available Saturday or Sunday, according to Board President Barbara Freiberg.






EBR School Board Meeting Preview

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board Regular Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 18th at 5:00 pm. The meeting will be held at the Instructional Resource Center on South Foster Drive, which is next door to 1050 S. Foster Drive where meetings are usually held. The usual meeting room is currently undergoing a $100,000 renovation, including new lighting, TV monitors and cosmetic changes to the room, according to The Advocate.

There are several items on the consent agenda, but they will be passed with one motion unless a Board member requests a discussion. Staff from the Broadmoor Elementary School Replacement Project are seeking authorization to issue a Request for Qualifications to seek proposals to provide Architectural Design Consulting services. There are also several grants seeking approval for McKinley High, Scotlandville High, Claiborne Elementary School and Bernard Terrace Elementary.

There is also a request for approval to add Wednesday, November 23rd as a holiday for all 12-month employees. An East Baton Rouge Parish School System Test Security Policy is also to be considered for approval. An agreement with Cox Louisiana Telecom L.L.C is seeking to enter into a contract with Superintendent Drake for a Voice Over Internet Telephone System for the entire East Baton Rouge Parish School System.


A copy of the meeting agenda has been made available: Areg02.18.16. Discussion of any of these considerations and the meeting as a whole will be covered live on Twitter by @BtheJournalist using the hashtag #EBRSchoolBoard. The meetings are also videoed and made available here.

Little Towns, Big Rivalry

Boys basketball—The Denham Springs Yellowjackets beat the Walker Wildcats 61-53 last night. Making this game number eight on Denham’s winning streak.

Walker started out strong, gaining the ball on the toss-up and scoring the first basket of the game. Walker forced Denham to play defense early on in the game, but the roles quickly reversed.

Both teams played aggressively from the beginning, with Walker displaying a tough defense throughout the game. However, Wildcat defense was no match for Denham’s #30 Torez Kinchen and # 20 Tori Odom. Odom began the game making three-pointers and proved he was not afraid to shoot the ball.

Walker came into the second quarter with a three-pointer by #30 D. Moore. Walker forced Denham to play defense throughout the second quarter, but Denham’s offense made up for any lost points. The teams entered half-time with a score of 34-24 Denham.

Walker seemed to be closing in on Denham in the third quarter, entering the fourth with a score of 42-38. Denham proved to be a fourth quarter team, scoring 19 points in the last quarter.

Kinchen made back-to-back three-pointers in the third quarter, damaging Walker’s momentum for the rest of the game. Kinchen’s scoring remained relentless into the fourth quarter. Kinchen scored the first three-pointer of the quarter within seconds of coming out of the quarterly timeout, helping Denham keep a safe gap in the score.

Despite a leg injury, Denham’s #12 Mitch Wilkerson subbed into the game twice for Kinchen. The Yellowjackets’ #24 Dorsett Washington went down in the second quarter with an ankle injury. He was helped off of the court by coaches and remained out for the rest of the game.

Game Preview

Boys Basketball—The Denham Springs Yellow Jackets and Walker Wildcats will go head to head Friday, January 29 at 7:45 pm. The Wildcats and Yellow Jackets are long-time rivals and the crowd is expected to be heavy.

Denham Springs’ state ranking is 102nd in the state, which is significantly lower than Walker’s seat at 50th in the state, according to Despite the large gap in rankings, Walker won a neutral tournament game against Denham Springs last month by only one point, with the final score being 46-45.

Walker has an overall record of 19-5, with a 4-0 record for away games ( Denham Springs has an overall record of 12-11. Denham Springs has proven itself to be a third quarter team, according to It will be interesting to see how the Yellow Jackets play without one of their starting players, Mitch Wilkerson, who is out with an injury.

To fuel on the rivalry, Denham Springs is on a 7-game winning streak. Meanwhile, Walker is recovering from an 87-29 loss against Scotlandville, according to You can follow the action live tonight using #WalkerAtDenham on twitter or by following @BtheJournalist.