Cooper defends ‘Common Core’ in meeting with Lafayette parents

New education standards that have come under fire this legislative session took center stage Thursday during the first in a series of parent-organized talks being held by Lafayette Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper.

The Common Core state standards have been the subject of debate among some legislators who recently called on the governor to opt out of testing tied to the new standards.

Other legislation also calls for the state to abandon its implementation of the standards.

Cooper told parents Thursday that while the fate of the standards is unclear at this point, he would encourage the School Board to continue its implementation to ensure continuity in Lafayette Parish classrooms.

“Our teachers have tried to learn this for the last two to three years,” Cooper said. “We need to stick with this. We think it’s the best thing that we can do.”

About 20 parents and community members attended the first of the “Cafeteria Conversations” sessions with Cooper at Comeaux High School Thursday evening.

The series of talks was organized by Parents Empowered, a new districtwide parent organization, as a vehicle for parents to hear firsthand from Cooper on issues and also to connect with the school district, said Heather Blanchard, a Parents Empowered founder.

The series continues at 6 p.m. April 29 at Acadiana High, May 1 at Northside High and May 6 at Carencro High. Blanchard said upcoming talks will focus on different topics.

Cooper and staff members took questions from the public at Thursday’s the session related to Common Core, such as why students were being tested on the standards when students in some subjects were not provided textbooks.

Kelly Gonzalez, district English language arts supervisor, said students did not take the test tied to the standards, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, this year, though some districts, including Lafayette, participated in a field test.

Resources, including textbooks, were provided to students, said Amy Deslattes, instructional strategist at Lafayette High.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau said the PARCC field testing enabled districts to test their technology capabilities. One of the field test sites was the Early College Academy.

The high school is housed on the campus of South Louisiana Community College, but even with the technology and bandwidth available at the college, the site still had issues with the administration of the online test.

Now, the district has the ability and time to troubleshoot those issues, Billeaudeau said.

Bernadine Herrmann, who has three grandchildren in Lafayette Parish public schools, said she wanted to find out more about the district’s turnaround plan, known as 100 Percent In and 100 Percent Out.

“I’m interested in seeing what they have planned going forward,” Herrmann said.

Prior to Cooper’s talk, she said she supported the new academic standards, known as the Common Core State Standards, but wanted to hear more about the district’s plans to implement new curriculum that supports the standards.

Cooper told parents the new standards are just one aspect the district is focused on to improve student achievement.

The district’s 100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out plan also focuses on initiatives such as the health and well-being of students and early childhood classes to ensure more students are prepared for kindergarten, he said.

“We have about 300 offspring of teen parents that start kindergarten every year in Lafayette Parish out of about 2,500 or 2,600 kids that start (kindergarten). Those children are not prepared to start school like my child might be or your child might be,” Cooper said.

The Lafayette Parish School System is labeled by the state as a B school district; however, 30 percent of the district’s students are not completing their education, Cooper said.

“If they don’t finish school, we fail,” Cooper said.

Cooper said he hopes the series of talks encourages more parental involvement with the district.

The outreach is part of Cooper’s plan to start a districtwide parent advisory council in cooperation with Parents Empowered. Cooper said the goal is to have a representative from each school to serve on the council and advise the district on policies.