West Feliciana begins school year on optimistic note

Despite concerns about funding and the fast pace of educational changes, the superintendent of West Feliciana Parish schools said Wednesday he is more excited about this coming school year than any other in the past.

Students begin classes after their summer break on Tuesday. Teachers and other employees reported for duty Wednesday and started the year with a motivational assembly.

Hollis G. Milton said he is cautiously optimistic that a small increase of students between October and February of the last school year signals a reversal of a slow decline in the parish’s enrollment related to several economic factors.

While the enrollment increased by only 32 students, the number looms larger in a system with about 2,200 students overall, he said.

“We hope it’s a change in a long-term pattern,” he said.

In his talk to employees, Milton asked them to follow their hearts and keep their minds open.

“I trust that you know what is best for your students. I need you to provide encouragement to your students, colleagues and parents,” Milton said. “Be open to new things and new ways. Stay positive and give your best effort to make new ideas, technology and strategies work.”

West Feliciana received a federal grant to begin a literacy program for students in all grades, including preschool classes. Educators call the federal awards “circle grants,” after the acronym for the program’s formal name, Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy.

The SRCL money is expected to provide additional focused intervention in all schools, including the high school for the first time, for students who have reading problems.

Milton said the grant is the largest the parish has ever received.

“We will leverage our academic program against the best of the best of the best,” Milton told the assembly.

West Feliciana consistently ranks as one of the top five school districts in the state, having the third-highest district performance score for 2012.

The parish’s middle school will change from a six-period day to five periods this year, giving students a little more time in the classroom for math, language arts, social studies and science. The fifth period of the day will be alternated between physical education and elective courses during the week.

Milton also announced that the school system will offer a smartphone application to allow parents faster access to “real-time information” about school events and information.

The information will be similar to what is found on the district’s website but easier to navigate on a smartphone, he said.