Years of work culminate in summit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009



BATON ROUGE—A coaching program run by the School Leadership Center (SLC) of Greater New Orleans recently reached its culmination with a summit of several area school district leaders including Superintendent Alonzo “Lonnie” Luce of St. James Parish and Superintendent Rodney Lafon of St. Charles Parish.

The summit, held at the Cook Conference Center at Louisiana State University, focused on a coaching initiative funded by a grant from the United States’ Department of Education.

The need for such an initiative became apparent to SLC CEO Brian Riedlinger when he noticed a lack of communication between the leadership of local school districts.

“You would think they’d get together and talk to each other, but they don’t,” said Riedlinger.

Through the coaching grant initiative, district leaders are able to share resources and solutions, he said.

In November of 2003, educational leaders from Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, St. James, St. Charles and Orleans parishes met at a Superintendents’ Summit, where they listened to presentations from Anthony Alvarado and Elaine Fink. The two speakers discussed the methods they had used in their respective school districts that resulted in dramatically improved academic performance in their students.

The methods they discussed focused not on students, however, but on leadership within the districts and schools themselves.

Since that initial meeting, the local leaders visited Alvarado and Fink and their staffs in San Diego as well as the University of Maine to observe coaching techniques put into practice and met periodically to gauge their progress. Meeting topics included intensive leadership training focusing on shifting principals into more CEO-type roles within their schools and alternate ways of assessing test data.

According to St. Charles Assistant Superintendent Rachel Allemand, however, one of the most effective measures taken since that initial meeting was the introduction of “Learning-Walks,” in which a team of educators visits participating schools to observe classroom activities and environments in numerous classrooms in rapid succession. After visiting as many classrooms as possible, the team then gives critiques and recommendations to the school’s administrators.

Hurricane Katrina provided some setbacks to the program. Because the grant specified the areas of focus as urban, suburban and rural and the storm devastated many schools within Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, East Baton Rouge Parish was invited to join the group to fulfill the “urban” part of the equation. Also, the creation of the Recovery School District brought the total number of participating districts to nine.

The storm also increased the total length of time of the study.

But now, just over five years after its start, the Coaching Grant came full circle with the return of Alvarado and Fink for the final summit.

Of course, this does not really signal the end of the program. It will continue in various districts, just without the benefit of federal dollars.