Nearly every failing school under East Baton Rouge Parish School district is located in one of four districts; District 2, 3, 4, and 5. Four local educators from those areas have embarked on a journey to ignite real education reform from inside of the local school board.
beBATONROUGE takes a moment to get to know the candidates some are calling “superheroes” poised to save the academic lives of the city’s children.
Dadrius Lanus – District 2: A graduate of Southern University Law School with a focus on Educational Law, Dadrius Lanus is a lifelong member of the District 2 community. He attended Forest Heights Elementary, and Glen Oaks Middle and High Schools before attending Southern. Lanus believes a “new view for District 2 is built on scholarship, honor and community.” Currently an Educational Equity Trainer and consultant, Lanus is always working to engage students and teachers to become their own advocates.
Tramelle Howard – District 3: A graduate of Southern University Law School, Tramelle Howardembodies Baton Rouge pride. As an alum of Crestworth Elementary, Istrouma Middle, and Southern Laboratory School, Howard believes that he is a “youthful, change agent with a passion for policy work” whose strengths will enhance the performance of area schools and student outcomes. Howard currently works with City Year, a national organization with a local branch that helps to close gaps in high-need schools by supporting students’ academic and social-emotional development.
Chrisdelin Kelly Lyles – District 4: An Instructional Specialist, wife, and mother of five, four of whom are educated in EBR schools, Chrisdelin Lyles believes that the district’s poor performance can be attributed to undervaluing the real stakeholders: teachers, parents, and students, of EBR. An alum of University Terrace and Greenville Elementary, Istrouma Middle and McKinley High, the former Southern University Dancing Doll would like to see being an educator become a prerequisite for school board members. Lyles believes that the School Board must become more “student oriented and not program oriented” if change is to occur.
Cliff “Coach” Lewis – District 5: A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Coach “Cliff” Lewis is proud to call Baton Rouge home after living here for nearly 20 years. Coach has worked in EBR schools for 11 years and his personal experiences in implementing concrete change in schools is among the greatest assets he would bring to the board. Coach currently works at Mentorship Academy, where he played a key role in turning the school from an F-rated to a B- rated school in a short time. Echoing the thoughts of others in the running, Coach knows that educational reform in Baton Rouge must be drastic, innovative and requires that those in positions of power “come out of the silos and become child-focused.”
What was your primary motivation to run for School Board Member in East Baton Rouge Parish?
Dadrius: “I was motivated to run for school board after visiting and teaching in local schools, noting the deplorable conditions of the buildings and the absence of school board members on campuses.” Mr. Lanus stated that he has always been an advocate for quality public education and believes he can make the greatest impact by having a seat at the table.
Tramelle: “I decided to run after attending a School Board meeting and observed there were no true investments being made for the students of EBR.” Mr. Howard states that as an educator and life-long citizen of Baton Rouge, he wants to re-ignite the passion of the community to become involved and actively participate in the decision making processes that impact the lives of each child in the district and parish.
Chrisdelin: Being the mother of four children currently educated in the EBR public school system is Mrs. Lyles’ primary motivation to run for a seat on the local School Board. When attempting to enroll her triplet sons in preschool, she discovered the few schools that did have Pre-K programs were all D and F-rated schools, despite being in areas deemed “middle class.” Mrs. Lyles decided to enter the race after asking herself the question, “Who better than a teacher and parent to become an agent of change for all students?”
Coach: “After working on the front-lines for 11 years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly face-to-face in the school system.” Coach stated that, “Schools that continue to fail, despite the progressiveness of technology and other resources available, are clearly designed to fail,” and he wants to be on the right side of change, which he believes to be inevitable, if EBR wants to move educational progress forward.
What is the role of a School Board Member?
Dadrius: “The primary role of school board members is to employ and terminate the Superintendent of the school district and to create a budget that is well-balanced.”
Tramelle: Mr. Howard agrees that the primary responsibilities of School Board members are to select the district Superintendent and create policies that “support and provide resources in schools, in addition to advocating for all children, not just those in your district.”
Chrisdelin: “The roles of the School Board members are to run the budget, create and implement good quality policies that are beneficial to students, and essentially, the board serves as the ‘boss’ for the district Superintendent, ensuring their accountability.”
Coach: Coach states that selection of the Superintendent of the district and ensuring there is an accurate, balanced budget are the primary roles of school board members. “Reviewing, changing, and implementing student achievement policies is also the focus of board members.”
The School Board impacts multiple levels of systems. How does a member of the School Board impact individual students, schools, and entire communities?
Dadrius: The board is in place to reaffirm student’s rights and to influence major decisions that impact students, such as expulsions. On a school-based level, the board has the authority to allocate resources to schools based on need and other variables. The impact of school board members on communities is the ability to build quality partnerships with businesses and organizations to become productivity hubs for the community.
Tramelle: Howard believes the greatest student impact the board plays is by providing the necessary tools to avoid becoming a statistic. Howards proudly states that, “Quality education saved my life.” Howard plans to use his position on the board to act as a positive role model for young, African American males in EBR schools. Howard believes that School Board members advocate for the provision of needed resources in their district’s schools and knows that quality education leads to quality communities.
Chrisdelin: Lyles stated that the impact of the board on every level can simply be explained by accepting that if we have “poor educational policies/systems in place, we will have poor communities.” Lyles also spoke on the board’s ability to make changes to policies, specifically citing the Zero-Tolerance policies, which in turn, will impact the public school systems’ reputation as the “pipeline to prison,” which is a multi-level issue.
Coach: Coach Lewis stated that the area where the board has the most substantial, student-focused impact, is the ability to create policies that address student achievement and opportunity gaps. Recognizing that schools work best when there is parental involvement, Coach created the first school-based Parent Center, before it became a district-wide initiative. Coach believes that if school boards adequately address the social and emotional needs of students, and provide quality educational opportunities, the cities will improve in multiple areas, including economy, crime rates, and even increase the value of homes in communities.
The four of you represent the districts with the greatest number of failing schools. If elected, what are your plans to address these inadequacies and how does that relate to the legacy or mark you intend to leave after your term ends?
Dadrius: “We must take a holistic approach to teaching our children if we want to improve failing schools. This is done by increasing mental health and wraparound services and implementing sexual health training on school campuses.” Additionally, Lanus believes that implementing incremental pay raises for teachers across the board and starting education in the cradle, by teaching parents how to be active and involved in their children’s education is imperative to turning around the system.
Tramelle: Howard states that the first step is addressing the overwhelming issue of under-performing schools but first having an extremely transparent conversation about the need to educate the “whole student.” Making the biopsychosocial aspects of student’s lives just as important as their academic success will have a positive impact on student’s ability and willingness to excel in the classrooms. “Education reform has to be drastic,” according to Howard, who says if he isn’t the victor on election day he will continue impacting change in education through his work at City Year.
Chrisdelin: Lyles believes that true change cannot be made without input of those most impacted by the proposed changes. She would hold forums in addition to reviewing an assessment of the system’s strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats before implementing any change. Lyles believes that empowering parents and educators and showing them they have the truest power to effect change is the first step to improve poor performing schools.
Coach: Recruiting and retaining quality, qualified Black male teachers is primary to addressing failing schools since nearly half of the African American males in EBR do not graduate from high school. Also, forming a consortium of teachers from both high and low-performing schools to share good practices is imperative to addressing school failures. Coach believes we must become “child focused,” work to eliminate the petty, politicking of board members, and provide principals with autonomy to implement programs/policies that are specific to the individual school culture in order to turn our schools around.
Where do you stand on Charter Schools?
Dadrius: “I am all for Charter Schools if charter performance compacts were implemented and these schools were evaluated for performance annually.”
Tramelle: “I’m not pro-charter; I’m not anti-charter. I am pro-student,” says Howard, who believes that the same level of accountability must be shown to Charter Schools as is to schools in the district.
Chrisdelin: Lyles does not believe that eliminating Charter Schools is the answer because that eliminates parent choice. “The board must fairly assess the performance of ALL schools,” says the candidate.
Coach: “I support Charter Schools if they are being successful in giving students a quality education, and meeting set standards,” says Coach Lewis. Charters are on a contract, and when you fail to meet the terms of your contract, it is revoked. “A failing school, is a failing school,” he stated.
What makes you the best choice for your district?
Though candidates agreed that their personal and current experience within the school system make them uniquely qualified for the position, they each shared what is distinct about them in relation to their opponents:
Dadrius: “I am community-centered. I’m from the district, was educated in the district and have the capability to unify the board.” Lanus stated that while some may view his age and novice level experience as a barrier, he believes those qualities makes him better prepared and more relatable to the students.
Tramelle: “I am accessible and visible to the public and have been an advocate and voice for the community. I will bring new change, passion and accountability to the school board.” Howard stated that the students of East Baton Rouge Parish need someone in a position of power who truly cares about them and he believes he is that person.
Chrisdelin: “As a parent with four children currently enrolled in EBR schools and as an EBR educator for more than 15 years, I am passionately invested in our children’s education.” Mrs. Lyles believes that she brings a unique perspective to the board as she personally identifies with the frustrations of parents and educators who want real change in EBR.
Coach: “I come face to face with myself each day in the schools. I know students want to succeed, they simply need encouragement, resources and opportunities to succeed.” Coach believes that he is equipped and prepared to embrace bold initiatives that will spark change in EBR schools.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 2018.