St. James school system embarks on bold path

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002


LUTCHER – Eighth grade students will soon lose the role of big cheese in St. James Parish schools on the East Bank.

A reformation entitled “The 7-12 Configuration” will take effect this school year combining junior high school and high school students at Lutcher High School. The change might make the school slightly crowded, but it will work out fine, LHS Principal Terry Mullen said.

Under the plan, about 300 seventh- and eighth-graders will be housed in the existing buildings.

New classrooms at LHS are being built and are expected be ready by the first day of school, Aug. 16. Four new classrooms now stand where the old library used to be.

Although junior high school students will soon inhabit the high school, Mullen said the younger students will be separated from upperclassmen as much as possible. Students in seventh, eighth, and ninth grades will have separate lunch schedules. Also, seventh- and eighth-grade students will attend classes locked-in by the School Board. They will not be eligible to take high school units, such as electives.

The hardest part of the convergence, Mullen said, will be blending the students from the two schools.

“There are two faculties and two student bodies. We want to get away from the mentality of a junior high and a high school,” Mullen said.

The new configuration is expected to help raise testing scores of junior high school students, getting them up to par.

The 7-12 Configuration will be very advantageous to students, providing the least amount of stoppages between grades, School Board member George Nassar said.

Also in time for the new school year is the nearly complete track at LHS. There are some legal issues to work out, Mullen said, but the track will be useable for the upcoming track season.

New athletic fields for junior high school students are also being built.

There are several additional changes outlined in “The Blue Print for Better Schools” in addition to the configuration.

Lutcher Elementary School will move to the former Lutcher Junior High School. Renovations to provide an age-appropriate setting for elementary students will be completed before school beings.

A Technical Center will open at the former Lutcher Elementary offering career-centered, elective courses to 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-graders at St. James High and LHS.

St. James Science and Math Center will be located at St. James Junior High. All seventh and eighth grade students in the parish were invited to apply. Through a lottery, 120 students were chosen. The rest were put on a waiting list.

The program will provide an advanced curriculum for integrated study of science and math. Students will complete their science and math coursework at the Center and will attend their home schools for the remainder of their classroom instruction.

Eventually the program will be open to ninth grade students.

The complete “Blueprint” is expected to raise math and science skills at the junior high level and expose all students to a broader range of technological opportunity.

Technology programs will be implemented for the upcoming school year with several new hands-on lab programs including “Career Discovery” for seventh-graders, “Computer Discovery” for eighth-graders, and “Career Discovery through Technology” for ninth graders.

“We want students to have first hand knowledge of career choices. They are more apt to pick the correct career for them,” Administrative Director of Teacher Development Mary Edwards said.

Like Nassar, most parish school officials are concerned with getting the lower performing schools up to standards. Officials hope the new programs and reconfiguration will drive the effort to raise scores.

Edwards considered last year’s progress good, but said progress was not good enough.

“There is always room to improve. We are happy about what we did last year, but we’re still working. We aren’t slowing down,” Edwards said.

Through a press release, St. James Parish Superintendent Edward Cancienne said he was pleased with the Department of Justice’s support for the implementation of the “Blue Print for Better Schools.” He was not available for further comment.