Former Creswell returns as virtual high school in fall

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Fourth-grade teacher Sydnie Thibodeaux organizes her classroom Thursday at Park Vista Elementary in Opelousas.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Fourth-grade teacher Sydnie Thibodeaux organizes her classroom Thursday at Park Vista Elementary in Opelousas.

Continual low test scores led to the closure of Creswell Elementary last month; however, the school will reopen in August as the site of a virtual high school and a second-chance program for over-aged fifth-graders.

As a way to prevent the takeover of Creswell by the Recovery School District for four consecutive years of low performance, the St. Landry Parish School System opted to close the school and rezone the students for nearby Park Vista Elementary, rated a B school based on state accountability standards.

The Creswell site will get a name change — the Center for Academic Programs — and serve students in grades seven through 12 in its virtual school program. The more- computerized instruction will be offered to 120 over-aged fifth-graders in the parish. The over-aged program enables students to complete the fifth and sixth grades in one year to catch up academically with their peers.

As of Thursday, none of the nearly 200 students of the now-closed Creswell have registered for classes, Park Vista principal Ulysse Joubert said.

The current enrollment at Park Vista is about 800.

Joubert said he’s already hired seven teachers to join his staff of 44 teachers.

On Thursday, some teachers worked to prepare their classrooms, some located in a new classroom wing designed to replace older portable buildings on the campus.

With the expected increase in students, those older portables will be put to use, Joubert said.

Parents were notified of the closure in a letter that went home with students in May, and a town hall-style meeting with parents to discuss the transition to Park Vista is planned prior to the start of school on Aug. 16, Superintendent Edward Brown said.

No date for the meeting has been announced.

“We don’t want to have any failing schools to start with and if we do, such as the case of Creswell, we want to make sure that we do everything in our power to make these students and our schools successful,” Brown said.

In the 2011-12 school year, the school received a state performance score of 54.5 out of 200 and only 39 percent of all students were at or above grade level in English, while only 33 percent of all students were at or above grade level in math.

By comparison, Park Vista received a performance score of 108.2 to earn that B label, and 86 percent of its students are at or above grade level in English and 73 percent are at or above grade level in math.

Park Vista isn’t preparing any unique educational services for the incoming Creswell students, Joubert said.

The school sets expectations for students and provides them the tools to meet them, he said.

“You don’t make an issue out of Creswell. There are kids here from 17 different school zones. They’re not singled out,” Joubert said.

“Once here, they’re Park Vista. There’s no Creswell now. It’s Park Vista. Now, we need people to register.”

Those expectations don’t change from child to child, fourth-grade Park Vista teacher Sydnie Thibodeaux said.

“I hold all of my kids to the same expectations,” Thibodeaux said. “I believe every kid can achieve.”

Joubert said he also is preparing for an influx of students previously zoned for Creswell who may have left the public school system or applied for transfers to other higher-performing schools. Those students now have the option to return to Park Vista.

Last year, Park Vista was the only public school in the state to participate in the voucher or school scholarship program that enabled students at low-performing schools to attend private schools or, in at least one case, a higher-performing public school.

The voucher program attracted 17 students from Acadia, St. Martin and Avoyelles parishes last year and so far, 37 students will attend Park Vista in the upcoming school year.

Last year, at least 106 out-of-zone St. Landry Parish parish students also attended Park Vista on school choice transfers that enabled them to attend a higher-performing school.

Joubert said 89 of the 106 students who transferred in from lower-performing schools in third through sixth grades had failed state standardized tests at their old schools; however, in their first year at Park Vista, 35 percent of those same students passed state standardized tests this year.