By Bret H. McCormick
River Parishes bureau
October 25, 2012
GONZALES — The Ascension Parish school system could not have received its recent A grade without help, Superintendent Patrice Pujol told parish and community leaders on Wednesday.
“The strength of this school system is the support of this community,” Pujol said during a meeting of the Ascension Community Coalition for Strong Schools held at the Instructional Technical Training Center on the Central Middle School campus.
A handful of parish elected officials and leaders from the business community attended the meeting to receive a report on the school system from Pujol, who spoke about school achievement, upcoming educational standards changes and some of the ongoing and upcoming projects in the school district.
Pujol said she was “very, very proud” of the growth the district showed, jumping from a school performance score of 109.5 last year to 121.2, and becoming one of just seven districts in the state to score an A.
However, she said it was unacceptable that four schools — Gonzales Primary, Lowery Middle, Lowery Elementary and Donaldsonville Primary — scored Ds or Fs, and she is not satisfied that more schools didn’t earn As and Bs.
“We still have more work to do,” Pujol said.
Community leaders in attendance praised Pujol and her staff for the progress they have made up to this point, overseeing a system that climbed more than 22 points since the state began tracking school performance scores in 2008.
“Every time we pick up a new customer ... they all move into this parish because of our school system,” said Chuck LeBlanc, secretary-treasurer of Bourg Insurance in Donaldsonville.
Ed Price, a former member of the Ascension Parish School Board and now a state representative, praised Pujol for her innovative thinking in starting a magnet program to push high-achieving students attending schools in Donaldsonville.
“I’m always asked how Ascension Parish is achieving, and it’s because of people like you and your staff and your innovative thinking,” Price said.
Parish President Tommy Martinez said Ascension Parish is poised to continue its rapid growth, and estimates from the Metropolitan Planning Organization show the parish’s population could reach 187,000 in the next 25 years. That could put a major strain on a school district facing the need to build new schools to keep up with current growth.
Pujol told Martinez that because it “takes a long time to plan a new high school,” she hopes to bridge the gap with construction of new freshmen academy buildings at East Ascension and St. Amant high schools that could help those schools accommodate up to 2,200 students.
She said district leaders know they will need to build a new high school — or multiple ones — but the current plan could put off that need for eight to 10 years.