Acadian Middle principal hopes to retain staff for turnaround

“We can’t afford to start off the year with substitutes or not being fully staffed.” Linda Nance, Acadian Middle School principal

A fresh start offered to Acadian Middle School is off to a slow one this summer.

In April, the Lafayette Parish School Board approved Principal Linda Nance’s request to reconstitute or restaff the school, allowing her to hand-pick faculty and support workers as part of a turnaround plan.

Though Nance has filled some positions with a mix of current and new staff, as of Friday, she said she still had 21 positions open — seven of those hard-to-fill math jobs — and stressed about the prospect of losing an assistant principal position and a part-time counselor spot amid proposed budget cuts.

Superintendent Pat Cooper said Acadian Middle and the district’s other reconstituted school, Northside High, won’t be impacted by the administrative and counselor changes — if those cuts are approved by the board.

He said it’s undecided which schools would lose a part-time assistant principal, but the district is working on a plan to retain its assistant principal positions.

“(We) may not need to ask a sitting assistant principal to go back to the classroom,” the superintendent said.

Nance said Acadian Middle school will likely receive an F accountability rating when preliminary performance scores are released later this summer.

The school’s rating last year was a D based on its performance score of 76.2 — a drop from its score of 79.8 in 2010-11 and its score of 85.1 in 2008-09. A new policy approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education requires schools to score at least 75 points out of 200 to avoid a failing grade.

“We can’t afford to start off the year with substitutes or not being fully staffed,” Nance said.

Nance said she hopes to have staff in place by Aug. 5 — when training is planned on topics ranging from student discipline to planning and instructional strategies.

She pitched the reconstitution as a way to ensure that teachers and staff with experience working with high-poverty students were a part of improving the school and she’s been encouraged by the interest.

“It’s been really enlightening to interview these people and their willingness to help us on our mission to turn this school around and pull this kids up from where they are to where they need to be,” she said.

Before the end of the school year, at least 25 of Nance’s staffers opted not to reapply for their jobs and asked to be displaced — meaning they’re on a list for available vacancies elsewhere in the district.

Nance said she retained at least 13 current Acadian Middle teachers for the upcoming school year. Current staff also includes an instructional strategist; one librarian; one social worker; one lab proctor; four teacher assistants; a school nurse; speech pathologist, and Assistant Principal Denise Lotief.

Assistant Principal Charles Richard is on leave, however, Nance said she’s worried his position won’t be filled due to proposed budget cuts.

Of the 21 vacancies at Nance’s school, 19 are for classroom teachers and two are for teacher assistants. The spots are available to teachers currently working in the district, even if they didn’t apply for a transfer, she said.

District staffers have said the district is overstaffed based on staffing formulas and the proposed cuts offer a combined savings of more than $6.3 million. Budget proposals include plans to eliminate teaching positions, seven assistant principal positions and two counselor positions.

The board is set to meet again on June 18 to review proposed changes to its $256 million general fund, which includes salaries and other daily operational expenses. Final adoption of the $655 million unified budget isn’t scheduled until July 17, nearly three weeks after the start of the fiscal year.

District staff initially proposed cutting 83.5 teaching positions, however, Cooper said Friday that the district’s state per pupil or Minimum Foundation Program funding increased by about $3 million, reducing the number of proposed teacher cuts to 45 and eliminating the likelihood that any will lose their jobs.

If the board makes decisions on proposed cuts during its 5:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, Cooper said, hiring decisions can move forward.

“Every day that goes by, we lose top-quality teachers,” he said. “We’ve got all these great people who want to come to work here but if we can’t offer them jobs, they’re going to go some place else.”