Lafayette’s newest teachers prepare for the school year

The Lafayette Parish School System has hired more than 170 new teachers who will start the first day of school on Aug. 12.

Last week, the district declared a critical shortage of teachers with about 40 vacancies, the majority in areas such as math, science and special education, but it has made more hires in the past week, district officials said Thursday.

The district started a three-day training seminar for the new hires Thursday. The seminar is a chance to brief the new employees on district policies and state education laws and to discuss educational content expectations.

At least 224 teachers attended Thursday — though about 50 of them are “end-of-year hires,” meaning they were hired and began teaching before the school year ended in May, said Sandra Billeaudeau, assistant superintendent.

The training is for first-time teachers and those who are new to the district.

The new teachers receive assistance throughout the school year, Billeaudeau said, and are assigned a veteran teacher as a mentor and receive support from the instructional strategist, a certified teacher who works directly with teachers to prescribe lessons for students based on their strengths and weaknesses.

“There are many steps in support not only at the school level but with lead teachers and central office staff,” Billeaudeau said.

First-year teacher Doug Lachner, of Racine, Wisconsin, said he’s more excited than nervous about starting his teaching career at Plantation Elementary.

“A lot of people are telling me what to expect, and they say your first year is baptism by fire,” said Lachner, who will teach French to fourth- and fifth-graders.

Lachner finished college in December 2012 with a degree in French and felt drawn to teaching. He enrolled in an alternative certification program offered by Centenary College in partnership with CODOFIL to build the state’s corps of French and French immersion teachers. As part of the program, Lachner spent a year studying in France and taught English to French students. He returned in May.

“I liked the idea of being in the heart of Cajun country and the French influence here,” said Lachner, whose hometown of Racine means “root” in French.

When the training started Thursday morning, it was standing-room-only in the auditorium of South Louisiana Community College.

Superintendent Pat Cooper joked about the size of the crowd of teachers and alluded to the often turbulent relationship between him and the School Board. The board has yet to approve its general fund budget and rejected Cooper’s suggestions for balancing the district’s $20 million deficit nine times in the past few months. The board also hired an attorney to investigate Cooper.

“For a while, we were thinking, ‘Is anybody going to come to (Lafayette) because of all the foolishness?’ ” Cooper told the teachers.

Cooper said he didn’t want teachers to worry about the politics. He said the district’s goal is to provide teachers the support to do their jobs.

“We want to give people what they need,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you teach at J.W. Faulk or you teach at Lafayette High.”

Sarah Gros is a new faculty member at J.W. Faulk Elementary. She recently returned to Lafayette after living in the New Orleans area, where she spent her first three years as a teacher at Estelle Elementary in Marrero.

At Faulk, Gros will teach fourth- and fifth-grade special education. The school has ranked among the district’s low-performing schools and in the past few years has been unable to shake an F accountability rating based on state measures. Billeaudeau said teachers will receive additional support at the school.

The district hired a new principal at Faulk over the summer, and a request for additional staff will be pitched to the board based on the new principal’s suggestions, she said.

Gros said she’s excited about the opportunity to teach at Faulk because the school mirrors Estelle Elementary before it made its turnaround.

“We were an F school with a new principal, and we brought it to a B in two years,” Gros said. “We can do the same thing at Faulk.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.