Diverse campuses key to education, council member says
LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish School System should look for ways to diversify the student population on its campuses if it wants to improve achievement in its high-poverty schools, Lafayette City-Parish Council member Kenneth Boudreaux said during a Monday evening forum focused on the impact of poverty on schools.
“If we really want to talk about this, we’re going to have to start talking about who’s willing to mix and blend,” Boudreaux said. “What would happen if they relocated the health academy at Lafayette High and moved it to Northside High? What would happen?”
Boudreaux spoke Monday during an education policy forum centered on the implications of poverty sponsored by The Daily Advertiser and the Coalition for Louisiana Progress, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group.
Boudreaux said the district’s lowest-performing schools share a similar “ethnic make-up.” Some of the schools are located in predominantly African-American communities. Boudreaux questioned the reported successes of students who have transferred out of the low-performing schools located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods to schools located in other more diverse neighborhoods.
“If you offer the appropriate education, with the appropriate level of commitment, I believe anyone could learn anywhere,” Boudreaux said. “I have yet to find somebody to explain to me how do you take a child out of an impoverished environment and they can learn.”
Christopher Tyson, a board member of Louisiana Progress and LSU Law Center professor, said that recent education reforms have focused on teacher effectiveness and governance issues, but “there is an elephant in the room that we are not discussing — and that is the issue of poverty.”
He said Louisiana is one of the poorest states in the nation.
“Not only in our cities but our rural areas, poverty is a constant in the life of many Louisianians,” Tyson said.
Tyson moderated the panel, which also included Tehmi Chassion, Lafayette Parish School Board member; Margaret Trahan, president of the United Way of Acadiana; Gary McGoffin, a local attorney and business leader; Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper; Janice Moncrief, principal of Myrtle Place Elementary; and Billy Stokes, director of the Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning.
Louisiana Progress is holding similar forums across the state to engage communities in discussions that could lead to solutions, said Melissa Flournoy, president and CEO of Louisiana Progress.
Panelists discussed dispelling the myth that parents of poor children don’t care about their children’s education. Obstacles such as a lack of transportation or inflexible work schedules may prevent them from attending school functions but parental involvement should not be confused with parental engagement, Trahan said.
Chassion said he feels social promotion has led to perpetual low performance at schools in his district.
Cooper said the school district has focused on early childhood education to better prepare students for school and also launched health and wellness teams to identify issues that may prevent or distract a child from learning.
Too often poverty, race or where students live is used as an excuse for why they struggle in school, Cooper said.
“My philosophy is we can’t have excuses. Every one of these children can learn and be successful,” Cooper said.
Panelists took questions from the public on issues related to after-school programs, the impact of private schools on public education, and curriculum. The group suggested partnerships among businesses, community groups and municipal government to help support schools and neighborhoods.
The “strategic alignment” of community resources around the common goal of helping every child graduate on time from high school is needed, Trahan said.
“It’s not the responsibility of the school system on its own to do this,” Trahan said. “Drop-outs are 16 and 17 years in the making. ... They live in an environment. They live in a neighborhood.”
The community needs to work together to “make sure they get the clear message that education is important and it is your ticket to a better life,” she said.