La. superintendent addresses ‘teacher leader’ event

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- North DeSoto Middle School 8th-Grader Hunter Bates, right, mentions State Superintendent of Schools John White, sitting, as Bates speaks at the first session of the Louisiana Department of Education's Teacher Leaders conference Thursday.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- North DeSoto Middle School 8th-Grader Hunter Bates, right, mentions State Superintendent of Schools John White, sitting, as Bates speaks at the first session of the Louisiana Department of Education's Teacher Leaders conference Thursday.

There are no manuals or PowerPoint presentations on how to teach the new common core curriculum public schools across the state will implement in the upcoming school year, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White told a crowd of about 2,000 educators Thursday.

Rather, he said, the state’s focus needs to move from top-down decision-making to teacher empowerment.

“It’s not going to be PowerPoints anymore,” White said in remarks to educators at the Cajundome Convention Center. “It has to be teachers coming together to collaborate.”

White spoke Thursday during a “teacher leader” event designed to train 2,000 educators — teachers and school- and district-level administrators representative of every public school in the state. The teacher leaders will be responsible for training colleagues how to implement the common core curriculum and how to use available resources that White described as a “teacher support toolbox.”

The state is shifting to more rigorous, national classroom standards known as the common core curriculum. The common core is an attempt to get all states to adopt the same, rigorous standards, beginning with English and math.

Evangeline Elementary Principal Felise Williams said during a break in training Thursday that her teachers have found the changes to be “overwhelming because it’s so different. The anxiety level is high right now, but I think the professional development will help … you do the curriculum based on your teaching style and your students needs.”

In Lafayette Parish, 47 classroom teacher leaders and seven school- and district-level administrators attended the training, said Phyllis Landry, Lafayette Parish Schools curriculum director. Following the training, the group will meet to discuss the best ways to create school- and district-level trainings on the common core and available resources.

Educators Nicole Marshall and Lacey Hogstrom said teachers will likely be more receptive of the changes if the training comes from other classroom teachers.

“People don’t know what to expect,” said Marshall, a third-grade teacher at Forest Heights Academy of Excellence. “We can offer them insight and share information.”

“Teachers are sometimes scared about change,” said Hogstrom, a teacher at Denham Springs Freshman High. “It helps that it’s coming from other teachers.”

The “teacher leader” training will continue Friday at the Cajundome and Cajundome Convention Center. The teacher leaders will meet again in June for another training session.

White spoke during the event’s opening session and was joined by special guests that included eighth-graders Mika Cooper of West Feliciana Middle School and Hunter Bates of North DeSoto Middle School and LSU Baseball Coach Paul Mainieri.

The two students shared the impact teachers had on their attitudes about learning and encouraged their academic and personal interests.

Students recognize and admire their teachers’ passion for educating students, Bates told the crowd.

The students’ eloquent speeches about teachers’ influence in their own lives “restores your belief and hope in what our future will be,” Mainieri told the crowd.

Mainieri, a son of two teachers, called teaching the world’s “greatest profession.

“We are the custodians of our way of life. Teaching generates our society’s continual growth,” he said.

He referenced the major changes within the state’s educational system and called on teachers to adapt.

“I know you are all going through a time ... What is important is to strive for excellence,” Mainieri said.

Louisiana’s students deserve the best education and the best teachers, he continued.

“You can’t let little short setbacks discourage you, you’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” Mainieri said.

While in the past two decades, the state has charted progress due to standardizations in testing, curriculum, textbooks and the creation of grade-level expectations, “I’m not sure standardization is the way (to) accelerate these changes,” White said.

“We need to put power in the hands of our educators if we are going to make those changes,” White said.