BESE to consider greater school district policy flexibility

After a one-month delay, Louisiana’s top school board is expected to approve a proposal by state Superintendent of Education John White that would give local school districts more flexibility.

The changes, among other things, would let districts set their own academic calendars and give them new authority over awarding credit hours.

Chas Roemer, who will be sworn in as the new president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week, said he thinks White’s plan will win BESE approval.

“At the end of the day it is to allow more local decision making, which is something that we support as long as there are accountability standards,” Roemer said.

The board is set to take up the issue on Jan. 15 at 10 a.m.

White proposed the new rules on Nov. 29.

However, it sparked questions and concerns at BESE’s December meeting, which led to the delay.

Holly Boffy, a board member who lives in Youngsville, was one of those with concerns last month.

“There are a lot of changes,” Boffy said. “So I had questions about the particulars of what those changes would do.”

She said she talked with constituents and state education officials and got the information she needed.

The rules that would be revamped are included in the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators, which is known to educators as Bulletin 741.

Under the changes, public school districts would gain the authority to adopt their own school calendar.

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community School District, said he and other members of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, which he is president of, back White’s plan.

Faulk said most states require students to get a certain number of instructional minutes per school year rather than to attend school a specified number of days. “We have days and minutes,” he said.

Faulk said that affects school districts with four-day work weeks and extended school days and makes it easier if schools can set their own academic calendars.

He also praised another part of White’s plan, which would allow students to earn credits by showing proficiency on an exam or other work rather than requiring them to sit through a specific number of minutes of instruction.

Faulk said it makes no sense for Spanish-speaking students to sit through a class on their native language. “They know Spanish,” he said.

Faulk said his district had a student who spoke little English but was fluent in mandarin Chinese. “He could take the test and be proficient,” he said.

In another area, the overhaul would allow dance team members and others involved in strenuous physical activities of at least 100 minutes per week to earn credit for physical education.

That could also apply to band members.