Principal pleads with board for turnaround

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Acadian Middle School Principal Linda Nance has requested to reconstitute faculty and staff at the school for the upcoming school year as a way to improve student performance.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Acadian Middle School Principal Linda Nance has requested to reconstitute faculty and staff at the school for the upcoming school year as a way to improve student performance.

Acadian Middle School Principal Linda Nance appealed to the Lafayette Parish School Board on Wednesday to allow her to reconstitute her school to hire teachers effective in teaching “high poverty” students and create teams of teachers to educate the same set of students.

“My experience has been in working with students in poverty and if you do not know how to do that, then you are going to be ineffective in the classroom,” Nance told board members.

Performance at the school has dropped in the past three years from 85.1 in the 2008-09 school year to 76.2, which is a D rating under the state’s accountability rating system, in the 2011-12 school year, based on data presented to the School Board.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Nance said.

Nance’s plan calls for a teacher collaboration concept known as “teaming” to begin at the school to help improve student performance.

In teaming, a team of teachers teach the same set of students, enabling them to work together to diagnose and address students’ weaknesses, Nance explained.

The cost of teaming — which would require additional teachers — was not available Wednesday.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said up to nine teachers would be needed to create a “Cadillac” version of teaming, which would cost about $500,000, but “Chevrolet” and “Volkswagen” models could cost less.

“Why is teaming so critical to this plan succeeding?” board member Hunter Beasley asked.

“It enhances the opportunity to provide job-embedded staff development,” Nance said.

A new policy approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education requires schools to score at least 75 out of 200 to avoid a failing grade.

The grades stem from a 2010 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The grades are linked mostly to how students did on key state tests, including the LEAP test that fourth- and eighth-graders have to pass for promotion and end-of-course tests for high school students.

As an assistant principal, Nance was part of the administrative team that led the turnaround and reconstitution of Northside High School.

A reconstitution typically involves replacing school leaders and faculty and bringing in a new instructional plan.

Board member Tehmi Chassion asked if Acadian Middle could still be turned around without a reconstitution, which Nance said was possible, but not without teaming.

Chassion questioned the expense of teaming and added, “I know we can’t afford it.”

“My question is can you afford not to,” Nance replied.

Nance said she’s not implying that teachers at the school would not be effective teaching in another environment, but some are not suited to teach high-poverty students.

“These kids have not gotten a fair shake in a long time,” Nance said. “It’s time. Their time has come. We need to give them a shot. They deserve it. Those kids are just sitting there waiting — waiting for Superman. They’re really great kids, loving kids. They just need somebody that can work with them in the classroom and move them up.”

Superintendent Pat Cooper said that while he agreed with board member Kermit Bouillion that other schools need research-based interventions, “some of our schools are failing faster than others.”

“We have to support these instructional leaders. ... You can’t second guess. She (Nance) is the educator. ... I just hope the board would allow the educators to educate,” Cooper said.

Acadian Middle also has an excessive number of student and faculty absences, based on data Nance shared.

The school also has a high population of over-aged students with 113 students in need of credit recovery to catch up with their peers academically.

The reconstitution request was on the board’s agenda Wednesday as an introduction item with action scheduled for the board’s April 3 meeting.

Also on Wednesday, the board discussed but took no action on proposed changes to the upcoming school calendar that builds in about 30 minutes to the school day to provide a set block of time for students who need extra help mastering skills.

Those students who don’t need additional tutoring can take an enrichment class during that time, said Phyllis Landry, curriculum supervisor.