Many new teachers, students in St. John

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 26, 2005

RESERVE — St. John the Baptist Parish School Superintendent Michael Coburn told board members recently that 1,391 new students have registered with the public school system since schools re-opened Sept. 12, following a two-week closure caused by Hurricane Katrina.

He also announced the need for 39 new employee hires and nearly $1 million in emergency repairs to school roofs and air conditioning units.

Coburn said most of the district’s newly registered students have been displaced by the storm, including at least 674 from Jefferson Parish, 359 from Orleans Parish, 21 from St. Bernard Parish, 11 from Plaquemines Parish and six from St. Tammany Parish. Officials have not yet verified the origins of another 320 students because of omitted or incorrect information on school registration forms, he said.

He noted that the school system has hired 25 displaced teachers from other parish school systems to help with the increased enrollment, including 22 from Orleans, two from St. Bernard and one from Jefferson. The system also has hired 10 long-term substitutes for St. John the Baptist Parish teachers who have not yet returned to work, four substitute bus drivers and one substitute lunch technician.

“We have not yet heard from some of our teachers since the storm hit. We’re very concerned about their well-being,” said Coburn.

Coburn said all the new students have been welcomed by their schools and space has been made available to them. In some situations, class sizes have increased to include as many as 30 to 35 students – well above the recommended classroom size – and one class at East St. John High School has 50 students, he said.

“It’s a tight-squeeze in many instances, but our principals and teachers are making things work for everyone,” Coburn said.

The school board unanimously approved Coburn’s request to repair roof damage at five local schools, including East St. John High School, Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, LaPlace Elementary, Fifth Ward Elementary and St. John Child Development Center. The repair work, which is estimated at $950,000, will be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder.

Board members also authorized Coburn to replace ten damaged air conditioning units for East St. John High School at an approximate cost of $20,000. They asked Coburn to receive cost estimates on adding an air conditioning unit to East St. John High School’s welding shop and replacing malfunctioning units at West St. John Elementary.