Friday, March 6, 2009

Jefferson Parish offers internship program for high school students

The Times-Picayune

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The construction workers wiggled the wall-sized piece of synthetic siding left and then right, angling it against the half-finished shed in hopes of finding the perfect alignment.

After a number of tries, the workers, all students at Cuillier Career Center in Marrero, edged the board into place and held it still as Kourtney Jenkins, 17, used a cordless nail driver to drill the siding into place.

"It looks better than it did at first," said Jenkins afterward, as he surveyed the structure taking shape before his eyes. "Work still needs to be done. But it's going to look real nice."

For Jenkins and his classmates, the job of repairing the dilapidated storage shed on Cuillier's campus isn't merely a classroom assignment. It's part of a paid internship, created by the Jefferson Parish public school system, that gives students hands-on carpentry, maintenance and landscaping experience and provides them with an hourly, minimum wage and a weekly paycheck.

Currently, about 40 students are involved in the program, working three days a week, said Rita Foster, Cuillier's principal.

Early jobs have included a landscaping gig at the former Ruppel Academy campus in Marrero and the shed renovation at Cuillier. Eventually, the program will span the district, including repair and maintenance work at public schools across the parish, officials said.

"It really is training students how to go to work: what are the safety rules, how to be on time," said schools spokeswoman Beth Branley. "It's not only given them skills but real-world experience."

Such internships can be crucial in the construction industry, which requires workers to think on their feet and become comfortable with power tools, blueprints and less-than-perfect weather conditions, according to Dwayne Mathis, the carpentry instructor at Cuillier.

"Most of them have worked in fast-food restaurants, in controlled environments. But construction is totally different," Mathis said. "There are a lot more variables."

The program, originally conceived by Superintendent Diane Roussel, started with Cuillier's horticulture students, who landscaped the flower beds at the former Ruppel campus last year, using a mix of palm trees and rose bushes purchased by the district.

"It was gorgeous," said horticulture instructor Gwen Nelms, who estimated the landscaping work would have cost the district about $10,000 to contract out. "Everyone in the whole parish wanted one."

It was such a success that administrators from other schools started calling Cuillier, asking for landscaping help. Sensing an opportunity, officials decided to expand the program beyond horticulture and this year offered the extra payment incentive for students, financed through the general fund.

While Cuillier easily provides internships in other fields such as culinary arts or nursing, construction is a tougher prospect, due largely to age restrictions and insurance limitations imposed by construction sites, Foster said.

Desmond Houston, 18, was one of the first Cuillier students to benefit from the payment change this month.

"I was happy and surprised," he said, of his reaction upon receiving his check for $70. "I didn't know it would be that much."

Still, some students acknowledged that the experience has proved just as valuable as the money. Andrew Clark, 17, quickly listed about half a dozen skills he's learned through his internship, including hanging wallboard, cutting out windows and using a reciprocating saw. When asked about his future plans, he didn't hesitate.

"Building houses and carpentry," he said, standing next to the Cuillier shed. "Just basically what we're doing right here."


Information from: The Times-Picayune,

Orleans schools show big gains, but experts say its thanks to Katrina

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans was one of 10 big-city school districts that scored at or above their state averages for student achievement in 2007, but that distinction comes with an asterisk, the author of a report released by an education think tank said Wednesday.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the same definition of districts was used as in analyzing student achievement scores from 2000. But Hurricane Katrina in 2005 changed the city's educational landscape.

For example, more than 100 schools fell under the New Orleans Public Schools system before Katrina; by 2007, after an overhaul of the city's long struggling public education system had begun, the local district retained control of a handful of schools — which also were among the best-performing in New Orleans.

The rest are now run by private organizations as charter schools or fall under the state-run Recovery School District. The recovery district last year estimated about 85 percent of its students were at least two years behind grade level in reading and math.

Loveless said charter, recovery district, alternative and laboratory schools were not included in the New Orleans Public Schools' score.

"Obviously, New Orleans is a special case and is singled out as such in the report," Loveless said, adding he is not confident saying New Orleans' schools overall have made the level of progress indicated in the report.

"There just have been so many other things that have gone on in New Orleans from 2000 to 2007, it's definitely with an asterisk."

School bus camera plan on hold, drivers want cash and more say in plan

GRETNA, La. (AP) — Nearly two years after the Jefferson Parish School Board announced plans to put surveillance cameras on and in every school bus, only about 12 percent of the 222 buses are equipped with the cameras.

Other drivers have refused to get the cameras on board because of privacy concerns and displeasure at orders to change their vehicles.

The plan was that the outside cameras would bring in income by providing evidence for traffic tickets — people illegally passing buses stopped to let children on or off — while the inside cameras tracked everything from student fights to driver behavior.

As of July 2008, the cameras expected to generate $2 million a year had brought in a total of $20,677 — before division, schools spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

ONGO Live, the Mandeville video surveillance company providing the cameras, gets half the money, with the rest split between the school board and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.

The school board's share is part of the bus drivers' gripe. Drivers feel that since the equipment is on their buses, they should get some of the money, said Frank Morales, president of the Jefferson Parish Bus Operators Association.

"They're using my equipment to generate revenue," Morales said. "Why should the school board get any money at all?"

Drivers also want permission to cover the cameras when they carry private clients on weekends and evenings.

The board agreed to a five-year contract with ONGO in 2007. The first cameras didn't work. A handful were activated last spring. But most drivers made excuses to ONGO or refused to come in for the cameras, board member Ray St. Pierre said.

The board has said it will discipline drivers who refuse to install the cameras, but has not set a deadline or named a specific penalty.

Morales said some drivers will remain opposed to the surveillance system, no matter what, but he seemed optimistic about reaching an agreement in the near future.

"It's not us against them. It's us working with them, them working with us," he said.


Information from: The Times-Picayune,


Pastorek to school boards: I want to work with you

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) — State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek told an audience of local school board members that he wants to work with them, even as he pushes a plan to term limit the boards, remove their salaries and limit their authority.

Pastorek told the Louisiana School Boards Association that any suggestion he has declared "war" on local school boards was nonsense. Pastorek said Friday that he's trying to modernize education and improve schools.

But school board members say they feel under attack in a push to consolidate power in Baton Rouge.

Noel Hammatt, president of the school boards association, said Pastorek was twisting data to back up his proposals.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education debates Pastorek's school board proposals next week.


Baton Rouge School places second in technology competition

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — St. Thomas More School in Baton Rouge took second place in the 2009 National Engineers Week Future City Competition, good enough to earn the school a big scholarship and new software.

Teams from 38 middle schools nationwide, winners of regional competitions in January, participated in the Future City National Finals this week at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

St. Thomas More won for their Future City, which they titled Esperyance. The team is comprised of students Maggie Talbot and Annie Talbot, both 13 and Tyler Bellue, 14, teacher Shirley Newman and mentor Ricky Lee of SEMS, Inc.

St. Thomas More received a $5,000 scholarship for its technology program, and a 10-seat academic suite of engineering software from Bentley Systems.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


Experts to give recommendations to landbanked New Orleans schools

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A panel of land use experts is set to give recommendations for marketing dozens of New Orleans schools that would be "landbanked" as part of a proposed master plan.

The Urban Land Institute panel looked at four properties considered representatives — in a business corridor, low flood plain and residential areas.

Thelma French, director of board operations for Orleans Parish schools, said the panel is providing technical assistance as part of the master planning process. It is looking at how officials might try to market the schools for another use.

Louisiana's education superintendent has said the city's school system was overbuilt before Hurricane Katrina, with capacity for about 100,000 students but only about 60,000 enrolled. The number of students is even lower post-Katrina.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.


Marksville High School coach resigns after alleged assault

MARKSVILLE, La. (AP) — The Avoyelles Parish School Board decided in executive session to accept the resignation of Marksville High School coach Roch Michael Bordelon, who allegedly assaulted Marksville High Principal Duke Allgood.

Tuesday night's vote stems from a Jan. 27 incident in which Bordelon, also the school's girls' basketball coach, was arrested for allegedly assaulting Allgood.

Bordelon was booked with battery of a school teacher and disturbing the peace, according to Marksville Police, and was placed on administrative leave without pay.

Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk,


Benton worker pleads guilty to defrauding school board

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A maintenance worker charged with participating in a scheme to defraud a north Louisiana school board has pleaded guilty to mail fraud.

Twenty-nine-year-old William Montgomery Rodes Jr., of Benton, was one of six suspects charged in the case and on Monday became the fifth to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud.

Rodes was employed by the Bossier Parish School Board's maintenance department. Federal prosecutors say he knowingly approved invoices to pay contractors for air conditioning work they failed to perform.

Rodes faces up to 20 years in prison. His sentencing is set for June 17.


Lafitte school gets technology award

LAFITTE, La. (AP) — A program at a school in Lafitte designed to help students and families learn how to use technology is getting a national award.

Representatives of Fisher Middle-High School in Lafitte are to accept the "Verizon Tech Savvy Award" Monday night at the 18th annual National Conference on Family Literacy in Orlando, Fla.

The Fisher school is getting the award for its "TechGen" program, which teaches parents and students various ways to safely use computer and communications technology for learning and for communicating with teachers. The award was established by the National Conference on Family Literacy, former Iowa First Lady of Christie Vilsack and the Verizon Foundation.


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