St. Charles School System to be showcased, Picard says

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 6, 1999

By MICHAEL KIRAL and STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / March 6, 1999

State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard announced Wednesday that St. Charles’ commitment to early childhood education and saving at-riskstudents ranks its school system above most others in Louisiana.

The St. Charles Parish Public School System will be among the top threeschool systems showcased during the next year, Picard said after his tour of the school system Wednesday. Picard’s other highly ranked schoolsystems include St. Tammany and West Feliciana.Picard’s tour was part of his promise three years ago when he became the state superintendent to visit all 66 school systems in the state. St.Charles was the 40th school system visited, and Picard plans to complete his tours by next year.

Early childhood development has been Picard’s focus at the state level, and he said St. Charles will help set the pace in improving education inLouisiana.

With more than 18,000 homeless children in the state, Picard said early childhood programs are key to saving at-risk students and keeping them in the school system. Other states nationwide have already made strideswith early childhood development, but it’s the missing link in Louisiana, he said.

“Ninety percent of at-risk children will not make it without early childhood education and health care programs,” he said. “A healthy childhas a chance to succeed.”Picard noted that alternatives to early childhood development include remediation, detentions and expulsions, dropouts, crime and incarceration.

“We can pay for it now, or we can pay for it later,” he said. “It’s better forthe society as a whole to help at-risk students when they’re young. Startearly.”Picard said parents should be the first teachers in the lives of children, but latchkey, single-parented and homeless children often lack parental involvement. He pointed out that 35 percent of 4-year-olds in Louisianalive in poverty, which is high compared to the national average of 24 percent.

Recent discussions with business and industry leaders showed Picard that most jobs today require skills more complex than ever before, and research has shown that students need to be better prepared.

It is hoped the state’s school accountability system and new testing procedures will challenge students and promote higher standards, Picard said.

“One of the problems we have in Louisiana is that we expect too little from our kids,” Picard said. “We’ve changed the tests, changed our strategyand added resources to challenge students.”Picard said the state has come a long way in the last 2 1/2 years, but there is still plenty of work to be done.

“I am proud of what we are doing and where we are going in Louisiana,” Picard said. “We’ve identified the lowest performing schools, tookinventory and will work hard to move the system forward.”Goals have been clearly established for students and schools, and rigid testing and higher expectations should improve student performance, he said.

“With summer school and remediation programs, hopefully no more than 16-17 percent of our students will be held back next year,” Picard said.

“There will be no more social promotion.”Technology has been increased in academic curriculums statewide, and Picard said the ratio of students to computers has dropped from 88-1 to 18.1-1. He is still working toward his 5-1 goal, he said.Teachers’ salaries have been improved, but Picard said more work needs to be done in that area as state teachers still earn more than $8,000 less than the national average. He said he is working with universities torevamp teacher instruction.

Picard emphasized the value of continuing education for teachers and developing leadership skills for principals and administrators. He saidprincipals need to be the instructional leaders in school communities with student achievement in the classroom being their first priority.

Picard said that beginning this year, students will be tested at a higher level of comprehension and thinking on their LEAP tests. At the end of theschool year, schools will be receiving their high performance scores.

Schools that score low will be given assistance.

“The bottom line is that we are not going to be picking on students and teachers like we did in the 1970s and ’80s,” Picard said. “We are going tobe holding schools and systems responsible and will be offering them assistance.”

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