Early childhood education programs praised

An external team reviewing the West Feliciana Parish school system’s application for re-accreditation gave high praise Wednesday to the system’s early childhood education programs.

The team’s report to the School Board said West Feliciana has developed a unique early childhood program that delivers services beginning six weeks after birth for children with identified needs, as well as full-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten for all children ages 4 and 5.

“It’s the best I’ve ever seen. It’s an exemplary model,” review team leader Sandra Sherman said.

The services to children younger than 4 are delivered through the Family Services Center at Bains Lower Elementary School, which has two full-time nurses and access to physicians and other experts.

“I’ve never seen early childhood (education) before at such a quality level,” said Sherman, who is Texas state director for AdvancEd, an accrediting group affiliated with three regional organizations, including the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges.

West Feliciana was accredited for five years in 2008, and Sherman said her team will recommend accreditation again to the AdvancEd Accreditation Commission, which meets in June.

Sherman said the parish’s universal pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs ought to be duplicated across the nation.

“Why are your students doing so well? It was very easy (to see), once we saw this,” Sherman said.

Other members of the review panel were Mary Beth Huber, Calcasieu Parish schools; Pat Horton, Red River Parish schools; and Kirk Credeur, Jefferson Davis Parish schools. Beck Johnson led the parish’s accreditation committee.

West Feliciana met all five of the accreditation organization’s standards, earning perfect marks in the areas of “Purpose and Direction” and “Governance and Leadership.”

“Your vision and purpose is very clear. All the fish are swimming in the same direction,” Sherman said, adding that the School Board gives Superintendent Hollis Milton and other administrators the autonomy they need to make the best choices for student achievement.

“Your family support is phenomenal,” Sherman said.

“We’re a community school system, and it works,” Milton said in accepting the report.

The only major recommendation the team made is to continue reviewing and revising the parish’s long-range financial plans because of the continuing rise in retirement and health-care costs, unfunded state mandates and the expansion of technology.