La. schools superintendent praises reform initiative
LAFAYETTE — Louisiana’s top education chief Wednesday credited the Lafayette Parish school system for its own plan to improve educational outcomes for its students as he visited the School Board for a presentation on the state’s comprehensive reform plan, “Louisiana Believes.”
The district’s “100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out” turnaround plan is a “fantastic way of thinking about your school system” and provides a path of success for all students, state Superintendent of Education John White said. “I can’t think of anything more exciting.”
The plan, created by Lafayette Superintendent Pat Cooper, includes initiatives to move the district’s state accountability letter grade from a C to an A within the next six years and also charges principals with the task of improving their schools’ letter grades within two years.
The plan is “innovative” in that it involves parental outreach before children enter school and provides pathways for students no matter their interest after high school: whether its career, military or college, White said following the workshop.
“That is an innovative way of thinking of our jobs as educators,” White said. “Our job as educators is to ensure that our children are on track from the cradle to the workforce.”
White has been visiting school boards across the state to make presentations on recent state education reforms pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal during the 2012 legislative session and how those reforms affect students, parents and educators.
The reforms place more authority at the local level with superintendents and principals making hiring and firing decisions, revamps teacher tenure and pay based on effectiveness rather than experience, and gives parents more choice on where and how their children are educated.
The efforts include a push for more charters and vouchers for eligible students at low-performing public schools to attend private and parochial schools at taxpayer expense. The state’s plan is “anchored” in the idea that choices for a child’s education should be made by parents and educators, White said.
School Board member Mark Cockerham asked White what teachers should expect from the reforms.
The reforms give schools more freedom to teach “out of the box” without restrictions, such as counting minutes students are in a classroom chair, White told him.
“I think what we should see in this moment of opportunity is No. 1: more people in classrooms giving feedback,” White said.
The reforms come as the state Department of Education also rolls out a new performance evaluation model for teachers that begins this school year and prepares districts for a new common core curriculum that will be phased in starting this school year.
The evaluation model requires that teachers be observed in the classroom at least twice a year, which presents more opportunity for classroom teachers to receive feedback and “hit their academic outcomes,” White said.
He also said he hoped the new evaluation system would encourage schools to develop “true professional learning communities” in which teachers mentor each other and help each other improve their instruction.
School Board member Hunter Beasley questioned the state’s financial commitment to strengthening pre-kindergarten preparation, which is a key component of the state’s reform agenda.
“What is the commitment of you and the governor as far as providing funding ... is there going to be any more money coming from Baton Rouge to really, truly support a quality early childhood program?” Beasley asked.
The state’s current financial reality prevented additional support for those initiatives, White said. Health care and higher education faced major cuts to balance the state’s budget deficit, he said, and while there was no increase in per-student funding for K-12 education, the Legislature preserved the K-12 budget, he said.