Melissa’s Musings: St. John schools now turning the corner

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 26, 2002


We see it almost everyday in state surveys, test scores, even in students’ faces. Louisiana’s schools are failing local children.

Even the St. John the Baptist Parish School System, taking such great strides to correct problems within the school system, to bolster test scores and to attract and retain qualified teaching staff, is still ranked behind state and national school standards. It is discouraging to school administrators, staff, parents and potential employers alike. When we send our students to school we expect them to get a good education? What are we doing wrong?

Well, this week, the State of Louisiana recognized St. John the Baptist Parish for doing something right and that, officials say, is a nice change. Two of are very own were nominated and selected as 2003 Louisiana Principals of the year.

Courtney Millet, LaPlace Elementary School, and Debra Schum, East St. John High School, were honored at a banquet in Baton Rouge Wednesday. It was the first time that two principals from the same parish took home the award.

Ask the staff at LaPlace Elementary what they think about Millet’s win this week and they will not just tell you how excited they are – they will show you.

On Thursday, students, faculty and staff waited outside the school with posters, streamers and homemade rattles. Music reverberated on every corner of campus, as the school gathered on the lawn to welcome home their hero, a real life role model, Courtney Millet.

It was more than a celebration. It was a declaration of school pride. A group of devoted educators and students stood out on the lawn Thursday and said loudly, “We are a success.”

LaPlace Elementary has shown a tremendous amount of improvement in the last few years. Students at the local school have preformed well on standardized tests, with about 99 percent of students passing the English/language arts portion of the LEAP exam and 93 passing the math portion. That places LaPlace Elementary not only among top performing schools in the parish, but also in the state.

An after-school LEAP tutorial program, field trips, music and art presentations (such as this week’s Chinese folk dancers) and a dedicated teachings staff have helped LaPlace student meet educational goals.

Now, ask faculty and staff at East St. John High School about their fearless leader. They will describe her as a “ball of energy,” a caring and concerned administrator that, somehow, has kept up with a rapidly growing school.

Schum has dedicated time, energy and, well, even more time, to give growing ESJHS that small school feel.

Just last year, the Freshman Academy opened, dividing freshman students from upperclassman and easing the transition from junior high to high school. The change has resulted in less absenteeism among students and a higher promotion of students to the 10th grade.

This year, Schum, her assistant principals and staff are working on cultivating “Career Pathways”. The program works on the same principles as a college campus.

Students in the Freshman Academy take their first high school classes during freshman year. During that time, they get to know what careers are available and what classes peak their interest. Sophomore year, students are asked to choose a “major” or a “career tract.” The tract helps students determine which classes would best prepare them for a career (or college) after high school and maps out the courses they need during high school.

Both Millet and Schum have been successful administrators and are worthy of the title “Principal of the Year.” However, their work has gone beyond that. Their win this week is a signal of hope to a school system that has received much criticism. The 2003 winners, along with Principal Teri Noel’s win last year, could mark the beginning of a slow, but sure turn-around for the school system.

MELISSA PEACOCK is a staff reporter for L’Observateur. She may be reached at (985) 652-9545.