Inside Report: Ascension program builds talent pool

The Ascension Parish School District has looked to corporate America to develop a plan to groom promising employees for the next step on the career ladder, whether it’s the role of being a mentor teacher or school superintendent.

It’s a succession plan for the district, with ideas taken from big business, said Jennifer Tuttleton, director of school improvement.

“We looked to the best practices of corporate America,” she said.

The succession program, called the Leadership Academy, is open to applications from school employees and was launched this past school year with a pilot initiative for 25 school leaders.

The group included principals, assistant principals and associate principals — and also current “teacher leaders,” who mentor or coach other teachers.

“It’s not career development for their current positions,” Tuttleton said of the Leadership Academy. “It’s really about ‘stretching’ people to their next role.”

“We’d like to get to the point where everybody promoted (in the school system) has gone through the Leadership Academy,” Superintendent Patrice Pujol said at a recent School Board meeting.

The 25 in this past school year’s pilot program met for all-day monthly seminars, heard from guest speakers and took on so-called “action projects,” partnering with schools to work on specific projects and be mentored one-on-one.

Originally planned for just one school year, the program for this first group of school leaders in the academy will continue into the new school year.

And the selection process has begun for a new group of school leaders to begin the academy when school begins in August.

Another new initiative will be offered in the coming school year to the Leadership Academy’s first group of teachers. Sixteen teachers, already trained to be a resource for fellow teachers, will be leaving their home-based schools to be “embedded” as full-time teachers in one of three schools on the west bank of the parish.

The schools — Donaldsonville Primary, Lowery Elementary and Lowery Middle — are among eight in the school district’s “Turnaround Zone,” an initiative that provides extra resources to help struggling schools, such as smaller classroom sizes, master teachers and teacher career advancement programs.

“They will have full teacher loads,” Tuttleton said of the 16 teachers who will be assigned for one year to the schools as part of the Leadership Academy.

The teachers will step into positions that were vacant for the coming school year, she said, and they will return to their “home schools” at the end of the school year.

Their own teaching roles at their home schools will be filled for the year by others on a one-year teaching contract, Tuttleton said.

Tuttleton said she’s not aware of similar succession programs in other school districts in the state.

The Ascension Parish school district, with 28 schools and more than 21,000 students, is a growing one, anticipating between 350 and 600 new students in the next school year.

Besides a constant evaluating of needs to either expand existing school buildings or build new ones to meet demand, the building of a talent pool to meet the needs of the future makes sense as well.

Ellyn Couvillion covers the Ascension Parish School System. She can be reached at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.