Cooper asks community to support innovations

Within the next four to five years, Lafayette Parish will have a “great school system,” but the transition will not happen without resources and community support of some “out of the box” initiatives geared toward reducing its dropout rate, Superintendent Pat Cooper said Wednesday.

Those initiatives, outlined in Cooper’s district turnaround plan, “100 Percent In, 100 Percent Out,” include health and wellness teams that manage physical and behavioral health needs; a teen pregnancy program and child care; and strategies to give students with severe behavioral issues alternative education.

“It’s going to cost the School Board some money, but it’s worth it” because the community will benefit from the interventions, Cooper said.

Cooper provided an update on the turnaround plan to a crowd of about 200 people gathered Wednesday for The Ind Monthly’s lecture series.

The plan’s goal is to improve the district’s state accountability ranking to an A within the next six years, he said.

The district’s rating rose from a C to a B with the recent release of state data in October, but that improvement isn’t much to celebrate, Cooper said.

“We’re a B school district, but we’ve got a 30 percent dropout rate. That’s an F in my book. We’ve got a suicide every other month ... that’s an F minus in my book,” Cooper said.

An A school or school district is one with a performance score of 120 or better out of a possible 200 points. An F school has a score below 65, but that will change next year when a score below 75 will give a school an F. In order to get a C, a school must score at least 90.

The state average score is 93.9.

The districts are graded mostly on student performance on standardized tests.

At least 20 percent of the initiatives in the turnaround plan have been completed and about 68 percent are still in progress while the remaining strategies are still under review, Cooper told the crowd.

Calling it an out of the box program that works, Cooper touted a teen pregnancy program for Northside High School to help students stay in school and earn their diplomas. Case managers will oversee students’ educational and prenatal needs, the superintendent said, and an on-campus child care center will be available for students’ children and teachers’ children.

He said he started a similar program while he was superintendent in McComb, Miss., where 95 of the 97 teen mothers in the program graduated.

Soon, community input will help the Lafayette district merge its turnaround plan with its facilities master plan and advise district officials on how to fund major needed improvements, Cooper said.

An account through the Community Foundation of Acadiana to raise private funds for the school system and special projects is also awaiting School Board approval.