School enrollment puzzles superintendent

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2003

LEONARD GRAY-Staff Reporter

RESERVE – A recently published report about private school enrollment in St. John the Baptist Parish has Superintendent Michael Coburn puzzled.

Since taking on his position, Coburn has pushed hard to turn around a trend of flight from the public school system toward private, parochial and home schooling. One of the most disturbing statistics, he said, was a nearly half-and-half split between public schools and other choices.

The report asserted that St. John the Baptist Parish trails four other public school systems in America with one of the highest percentage of non-public school children, based on 2000 Census figures.

The report said St. John Parish has 32.4 percent of its school age children in non-public education. His own figures are at about 49 percent, which would, far and away, rank the parish as leading the nation.

“When I got in this morning and had my cabinet meeting, I put people right on it,” Coburn said. “The census numbers might have changed, but not 15 to 20 percent. No way.”

According to the report, the number-one spot belongs to Holmes County, Ohio, with 36.1 percent. Number two is Jefferson Parish, with 35.6 percent. Number three is Sioux City, Iowa, with 33.2 percent, and number four was Cuming County, Nebraska, with 33 percent.

He added he is making inroads on building public school enrollment, with 375 more students reported on the first day of classes this year, compared to last year. “It really looks good,” he said.

Coburn also took the opportunity to speak against a long-standing tradition to keep students out of attending school until after Labor Day.

“Every day you miss is a day behind,” he said.

It’s even more important in high school level, where block scheduling means that a loss of the first two weeks of classes makes it virtually certain the student will fail for the year.

Eight days are allowed before it cuts deeply into school grades, Coburn said, but the loss of two weeks is too much.