Cooper plans school talks to engage Lafayette parents

Superintendent Pat Cooper is holding a series of talks starting this month to help parents stay informed on district issues.

A districtwide parent group, Parents Empowered, organized the talks, which it calls Cafeteria Conversations.

The series starts at 6 p.m. April 17 at Comeaux High and continues at 6 p.m. April 29 at Acadiana High, May 1 at Northside High and May 6 at Carencro High.

Heather Blanchard, of Parents Empowered and a Woodvale Elementary parent, said a small group of parents have been meeting with Cooper on an occasional basis over the past few months to discuss issues, such as the need for more after-school programs.

“We thought it would be nice for parents to ask their specific questions and hear directly from Dr. Cooper on what issues may be important to them,” Blanchard said of the reason for organizing the series of talks.

As part of the format, Cooper will give a brief presentation, then take questions.

Cooper said he hopes the planned talks help clear up misconceptions about such issues as new learning standards called the Common Core State Standards that have led to the development of new curriculum used in classrooms.

He said he’ll also discuss charter schools, next school year’s budget and discipline strategies.

The talks also are an opportunity to hear from parents on issues, such as the budget, Cooper said.

“We’re going to leave a lot of time for questions about anything they want to talk about. It’s trying to give them a voice and a place where they can get answers,” Cooper said.

The School Board begins the first of a series of planned budget workshops Tuesday.

“I think the whole budget scenario this year is important because the board’s going to have a big choice whether to cut dollars and programs or are we going to try to work a different direction here and keep our schools in tact and using some of the fund balance,” Cooper said.

For Cooper, the talks launch the district’s efforts to involve more parents in district decisions.

Cooper said he’s asked Parents Empowered to spearhead the creation of a parents advisory council that would meet more regularly to offer input on district policies and initiatives.

Cooper said the council would include one representative from every school. He said he meets with a teachers advisory council and more regular input is needed from parents.

Cooper said he plans to refocus an existing staff position on parent outreach as a way to engage more parents and keep them better informed on school district issues.

“We know we’re not doing everything perfectly,” Cooper said.

“Our parents are our customers. We’re trying to give them the best-educated kids we can,” he said. “They’re paying the taxes. They’re supporting our schools. We ought to listen to them more.”