Judge pleased with St. Helena progress

St. Helena makes its case for return of middle school control

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady on Thursday toured St. Helena Parish’s schools, just as the parish is trying to wrestle control of its middle school from the state.

St. Helena Parish School District officials showed Brady around St. Helena Central Elementary and High schools, while state officials took him to St. Helena Central Middle School, which is operated by the state-run Recovery School District.

Brady in August shot down a request by the St. Helena School Board to overturn his May 2010 order that let the Recovery School District take over the poorly performing middle school. The parish still operates the elementary and high schools.

Superintendent Kelli Joseph said she invited Brady to visit the parish to see the progress the district has made at its school facilities, which include massive ongoing and upcoming renovations and expansions.

“I wanted him to see that we’re taking care of the children that we have,” she said.

Patrick Dobard, the Recovery School District’s superintendent, said Brady also was able to see some of the challenges the middle school faces, such as underground plumbing issues and roof leaking.

But Dobard also said RSD has made significant improvements to the facility, including new technology capabilities and massive restroom renovations.

“I was glad that he was able to see the things that we’ve done from the RSD’s perspective,” Dobard said.

The School Board’s request to oversee the middle school was part of the parish’s decades-old federal school desegregation suit, which Brady oversees.

Brady has denied the School Board’s motion for a new trial over the issue, but the board has already appealed that decision.

Brady, in his August ruling, said he would be willing to revisit the issue in the future.

Brady began his Thursday morning by visiting the School Board’s office in Greensburg and hearing a presentation on the extensive school upgrades, which are projected to cost about $14.7 million.

Plans include new classroom facilities for both schools, in addition to refurbishing a technical college building behind the high school’s campus for additional classroom use, according to a master plan for the school facilities.

The technical college renovations should be complete by December, said Clay Slagle, of Volkert Inc., the construction consulting firm hired to design the project. The 12-classroom facility should be ready in August 2014.

No official timeline has been set for the elementary school renovations, Slagle said.

Brady said he was impressed with the plans.

“You’ve come a long way since I was here last,” he said.

Board President Edward “Scott” Galmon told Brady that the school district is finally addressing facility needs that should have handled made years ago.

“This is a meager start to what we’re trying to do,” Galmon said.

Brady then made his way to St. Helena’s facilities, first stopping by the technical college campus.

Brady, parish and state officials milled through the building as the buzzing of saws from the construction crew filled the air.

St. Helena Central High School students and Principal Reginald Douglas guided Brady through the high school buildings. Brady peered into classrooms and watched teachers give their lectures.

Brady did the same at St. Helena Central Elementary School. He applauded a group of students as they finished a counting lesson.

Brady noted during his tour that the school facilities were much improved from the last time he visited them about four years ago.

“Kudos to you,” Brady said to Galmon and Joseph as he shook their hands and left.

Brady then traveled to the middle school.