Friday, January 30, 2009



Snow days shorten school

AMITE, La. (AP) — Two school days missed because of mid-December snowfall means Tangipahoa Parish public school students will have longer school days through the end of the year.

Last fall, the end of the class day was extended by 15 minutes to make up four days missed in early September after Hurricane Gustav hit on Labor Day.

On Tuesday, the parish School Board approved extending the longer school day from April 1 to May 21, students' last day of school.

Superintendent Mark Kolwe says the longer day was supposed to end March 31, but snow last month kept students home Dec. 11 and Dec. 12. Forecasters have said that the Amite area accumulated 8 inches of snow, the largest measurable amount of any community in southeast Louisiana and parts of neighboring Mississippi.


Information from: The Advocate,


Martin appointed new superintendent

HOUMA, La. (AP) — With a 7-1 vote, the Terrebonne Parish School Board has promoted Philip Martin to the position of superintendent of parish schools.

Martin previously served as assistant superintendent.

Martin, who has been serving as interim superintendent since former schools chief Ed Richard's departure, has no set salary yet. A committee will negotiate salary and contract length with Martin. The board's vote was Tuesday.


Information from: Daily Comet,


Historic school up for sale

LINVILLE, La. (AP) — The little red school house in this Union Parish Town — where Jerry Lee Lewis was once a student — is up for sale.

School Superintendent Steve Dozier says the property is not going to be used by Union Parish in the future and it's costing money to provide security and to maintain the facility.

The Linville School was closed in 2005.

Former Linville principal Glenda Reynolds says when Lewis attended the school, he was known for entertaining the students and delaying their return to class with his music. Rumors are that Lewis' autograph is somewhere on the building, but no one has been able to find it.

The historic 100-year old red school building will be auctioned at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 7 on the property. The remaining buildings and property will be sold through sealed bid.


Information from: The News-Star,

Charter High gives students smaller class sizes, more technology

The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Since its opening in 1998, more than 600 students have graduated from Lafayette Parish's Charter High School.

While the 10-year number is lower than the average annual graduation class of Lafayette Parish high schools, Charter High isn't your average high school.

That's why most students choose it.

At Charter High, students learn at their own pace via computer programs that teach the state's comprehensive curriculum. Class sizes are small and categorized by subject matter with students at different levels in the same class.

The computers don't bump the teacher out of the classroom, but rather students and teachers in the program say the model provides more opportunities for individualized instruction.

"I'm able to do individualized instruction because I have 15 instructors and I'm floating to make sure everyone's on task," said Gregory Chiasson, the science teacher at Charter High.

Tutors are also assigned to classrooms to assist students.

The school was created by the parish school district 10 years ago to decrease the number of high school dropouts, said Jody Duhon, Charter High's principal.

"That's still the case today, but it's evolved to another avenue for students who don't fit the traditional campus," she said. "The students that come here, they've decided they're not interested in the high school experience."

The reasons that bring students to apply to the school are unique to their own circumstances — an illness or the need to work to support one's self or family are just two of many examples of why students seek out Charter High.

"I didn't like high school and was thinking of dropping out," said Robbin Roundtree, 18.

Roundtree started at Charter in November and was classified as a sophomore.

"I think this is better for me because you learn what you learn in public school and you can take your time," he said.

The high school meets in the afternoons on the campus of the old LeRosen Elementary School in Lafayette. Students attend three hours a day. Because of the shortened class time, the academic calendar for the Charter High School students is longer at 244 days than the traditional 180.

The school also offers day-care for teenage parents and allows students to visit their children during breaks between classes.

Though it shares space with two alternative education programs, Duhon clarified that Charter High School is separate from those programs which target students with discipline issues.

Charter is one of the district's many "schools of choice" programs and students must apply for admission. New students are accepted each month and the only standing requirement is that students be registered at a Lafayette Parish high school.

Admission is capped at 150 students at a time.

Currently, there are roughly 30 spots open and each month 15 to 20 students are interviewed for possible admission, Duhon said.

A student's background — behavior issues, past school attendance, age versus number of credits already earned and prior academic achievement — are considered when a student applies and is interviewed, she said.

To earn a diploma, students must meet the same requirements of any high school student, including passage of the standardized exit exam, and also must maintain 90 percent attendance to remain in the program.

Students can also work toward eligibility in the state's TOPS tuition program — Tuition Opportunity Program for Students.

Despite their individual difficulties or obstacles, Duhon said students have chosen Charter because they have the same goal — to earn a diploma.

Last year, 68 students graduated and many are scheduled to complete their final course credits within the coming weeks.

Doses of motivation often come over the intercom during a ritual performed by graduates who announce their official completion of high school. On average, those announcements are made at least five to six times a month.

"You're really excited for the person and it makes you more ready and excited to finish and complete your own work," said Abigail Galloway, who is on track to complete her diploma in February, a few months ahead of her former Comeaux High School classmates.

An illness kept Galloway out of school for an extended period during her sophomore year at Comeaux.

"I knew even with doctors' excuses that I wouldn't be able to catch up and graduate on time," she said.

Galloway plans to attend South Louisiana Community College and then major in marketing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. There are some high school activities she admits she misses, but added that Duhon has made efforts to offer some traditional distractions, such as field trips and holiday celebrations.

One thing these students don't give up is that walk in a cap and gown. Once a year, the school holds a ceremony for all its graduates in the past year.

Last year, at least 12 of the 68 Charter High graduates went on to a four-year college, while others continued on to vocational training or jobs, Duhon said. Many, like Frankie Rideaux, 19, already hold full-time jobs and support a family of their own.

Rideaux formerly attended Carencro and began at Charter High in October. He works three days a week at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Opelousas.

His work — in the classroom and out — is worth it, he says. He has six more credits to complete before he'll earn his diploma.

"I felt it was real important for me to get my high school diploma and not just to get my GED," Rideaux said. "That's one of my goals to start out my life — to get my high school diploma. I do plan on going to college."


Courtesy of: The Advocate,

Board approves state takeover of ten schools

Associated Press Writer

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's education board agreed Jan. 14 to a state takeover of 10 poor-performing public schools in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, despite fierce opposition from local education and community leaders who said they could improve the schools themselves.

After heated debate and a nearly six-hour hearing, members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a plan to wrest control of eight Baton Rouge and two Caddo Parish schools from their local school districts, beginning July 1.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek recommended the move, saying it was needed to improve performance and better educate the 4,500 students who attend the low-performing schools. Pastorek said he intends to turn the schools into independently run charter schools.

"This is a chronic, severe failure of the public education system to properly educate our children," Pastorek told BESE members.

Pastorek's plan, which is supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal, was approved by a BESE committee and must be approved by the board in a final vote before it can take effect. But all of the 11-member board voted in the committee meeting, so Thursday's approval was considered a formality.

The issue sharply divided board members — and drew a packed crowd of about 350 people to the meeting, a majority of whom loudly opposed a state takeover.

Critics questioned whether schools currently under state control have shown enough improvement and whether the state will be shifting schools to unproven charter school models that will dismantle traditional public education.

Superintendents and school board members from both East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes said they have their own ideas for correcting school failures, and they argued that local communities were in the best position to understand the needs of their schools and their students.

East Baton Rouge Parish Schools Superintendent Charlotte Placide said she has improvement plans for the failing schools that would rehabilitate the schools in her district by turning some into charter schools, lengthening school days at others and changing leadership. She said several schools targeted for takeover have improved with changes already made.

"Are we where we need to be? No, but we are making progress," Placide said.

Caddo Parish education leaders asked for time for their recently hired superintendent, Gerald Dawkins, to make the changes he's proposed for schools.

"It's incredibly mean-spirited and irresponsible of you to not give this man an opportunity," said Jackie Lansdale, president of the Caddo Federation of Teachers.

Supporters of a takeover said the local school districts have known since the start of Louisiana's school accountability system a decade ago that consistently failing schools were vulnerable to state takeover. They said they tired of local school district leaders asking for more time to make improvements while the schools continued to fail.

"I want you to tell the kids who can't read and can't write we're moving with too much haste," said BESE member Chas Roemer of Baton Rouge. "I say we're not moving fast enough."

The schools slated for takeover have student populations that are largely black and poor, where at least 80 percent of students performed below their grade levels and a quarter of the teachers leave each year.

The state already runs 71 public schools through the Recovery School District, which includes 66 in New Orleans, four in Baton Rouge and one in Pointe Coupee Parish, according to the state education department. When the state takes control of a school, the local school district loses money.

Thirty-three failing public schools were eligible for a state takeover, because they have been deemed failing in the state education accountability system for four years in a row.

Besides the 10 planned for takeover, Pastorek's plan calls for state supervision of improvement plans for the 23 other failing schools in 11 parishes, but not direct state control. Those schools are in Caddo, Calcasieu, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Rapides, Richland, St. Helena, St. James and St. Landry parishes.

For those schools, the Recovery School District would draw up proposed changes in leadership, curriculum and financing that would have to be approved by the local school boards.

If those plans aren't approved, the state could then take over the schools. If the schools don't improve after a year with the changes, the state could still take control of them.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Drug testing policy suspended for LA teachers

Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A local Louisiana school board has agreed to suspend a policy that allowed school officials to test teachers for drugs and alcohol after being injured on the job — a practice challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by the local teachers union.

An agreement signed Thursday by U.S. District Judge James Brady says the East Baton Rouge Parish school board will not conduct such tests unless it has a reasonable suspicion that a teacher was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while injured on the job.

That agreement will remain in effect pending the outcome of the civil rights lawsuit that the teachers union, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed against the school board in October.

Peggy Reno, a teacher at the parish's Mohican Education Center, filed a separate lawsuit that claims she was forced to submit to a drug test after a student punched her in September. The union said a school principal ordered a drug test for another teacher, Susan Fontenot, who was attacked by a student in August 2006.

The union, which represents about 1,600 members, said a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled in 1998 that teachers who aren't suspected of wrongdoing can have their constitutional rights violated by mandatory drug testing after an on-the-job injury.

"The drug and alcohol testing policy of (the school board) is overly broad, overly intrusive, and without a compelling state interest or even a rational basis," the union's lawsuit states.

Dennis Blunt, a lawyer for the school board, said the board hasn't been enforcing the policy for at least several months. Blunt said the policy itself adheres to the law, but some school officials or employees may have misunderstood the testing requirements.

"I think there might be some confusion from a staff standpoint," he said. "It might not have been written in a fashion that folks understood what they had to do. But if it was not, it will be."

ACLU attorney Adam Wolf said "suspicionless" drug testing of teachers is rare. Last month, however, a federal judge in West Virginia blocked the Kanawha County school system from implementing a new policy that would have allowed for random drug testing of school employees, including teachers.

"Suspicionless searches by the government are presumed unconstitutional," Wolf said. "There's a very narrow exception for workers who occupy safety-sensitive positions, like nuclear power plant operators. But dealing with spent nuclear fuel is very different from dealing with chalk and erasers."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

State sponsors 'Mission' program to aid student growth

By John Colvin
The Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana students who are not likely to earn a high school diploma are being given an opportunity to do so through a state-sponsored program.

Students from 14 school districts statewide have been chosen to participate in the Educational Mission to Prepare Louisiana's Youth, under the state Department of Education.

"These students are usually behind academically and struggle with social and emotional problems," said Ginger Weber, supervisor of career and technical education with the Ascension Parish School System, one of the school districts chosen for the program.

The districts were selected based on the number of at-risk students with reading levels where they can be remediated and trained.

Also taken into consideration were work force demands in their region, industry support for work-study opportunities and the capacity for training in high-demand fields at nearby Louisiana community and technical colleges.

"It gives them a second chance to get a GED and industry training along with a lot of soft skills training," Weber said.

The other school districts chosen were Assumption, Avoyelles, Bossier, Caddo, Calcasieu, Iberia, Jefferson, Ouachita, Rapides, St. Tammany, Terrebonne, Vermilion and Winn.

As part of the program, more than 500 students will have a chance to get paid work experience through the Louisiana Workforce Commission and business and industry partners. Those students will also be provided an adult mentor.

"When they leave us they have something other than a document," said Glenn Ledet, director of federal programs and secondary education for Assumption Parish schools.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said the pilot program is based on initiatives already working in some parts of Louisiana and the nation.

Pastorek said the goal is to better prepare struggling students for further education and careers, and is part of a larger initiative to reduce high school dropouts in Louisiana.

"We have to do something immediately to support these struggling students so that they have the education and skills to succeed as adults," Pastorek said in a news release.

He said almost 16,000 students from the seventh to 12th grades are dropping out each year.

The students chosen must have a reading level of seventh grade or higher.

Ledet said they also are taking the opportunity to set up an aggressive reading program for those below seventh-grade levels.

Seven Assumption students and 17 Ascension Parish students will be involved in the program being implemented this month, said Ledet and Cathy Meredith, the Ascension director of secondary schools.

The state plans to use $2.55 million in existing funds, with federal funds and the support of business and industry, to implement the pilot program.

Courtesy of The Advocate