SJBPS ready to open a sparkling Emily Watkins

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 25, 2009

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE—The custodians are working diligently to make sure every surface of the new Emily C. Watkins Elementary School shines while the teachers are busy pinning colorful posters to classroom walls.

In the administrative offices, too, work continues at a hectic pace.

“We’re working feverishly. There’s not a free minute during the day,” said Principal Antoinette Robinet.

Currently at work on the school’s master schedule, Robinet added, “I’ll be so happy when Aug. 6 comes. There’s still lots to be done. We’ll have everything ready for the students when they arrive and work out what needs to happen one day at a time.”

Robinet said she wants to be ready for the students on day one, but some things just cannot be planned for, and they will handle those instances as they pop up. Right now, everyone is focusing on preparing for that opening day, keeping track of new registrations and working on rosters.

Currently, about 440 students have registered at the sparkling institution. Those students will be greeted by not only shiny floors, lush plant life and towering windows but also state-of-the-art technology.

The school boasts two computer labs, each equipped with 30 brand new iMac computers with the library containing six more. Of the library, Robinet said, “The purpose is to be like a little multimedia center.” The use of the Mac platform, particularly friendly for multimedia applications, will no doubt aid in that endeavor.

Most other schools in the district are outfitted with PC platform computers, though, so each classroom in the new school has PCs. According to St. John Superintendent Courtney Millet, she did not want Watkins to be an island.

Even the design of the school itself represents a new era of thinking. The school has many windows and is very open compared to the concrete box designs most students are used to. Windows even line many interior halls, giving the space an airy, open feel.

That new smell will not be wearing off at the school anytime soon. The school will open as a kindergarten through fifth grade facility but will add another grade for the following three years.

“We’re going to be a new school for at least the next four years,” said Robinet.

Millet was quick to add, “They’re going to be her students,” referring to the fact the children would not be transferring in as eighth graders.

Not everything at Emily C. Watkins is new, however. The majority of the teachers that were brought in have transferred from other schools both within and outside the district. Additionally, the school has hired a counselor and a doctorate-holding master teacher from outside the system.

Additionally, the school is supplementing all that teaching experience with a partnership with John L. Ory, one of the most successful schools in the district and the school where Robinet served as assistant principal before landing the job at Watkins.

The teachers at the new school will learn from their Ory cohorts procedures, routines and best practices as well as “picking their brains on a daily basis,” said Robinet.

“It’s the things they’ve learned over time that make a difference,” she added.

Robinet said Watkins will then be able to pass what they have learned on to other schools in the parish.

“We’re working on having that coherence across the district,” said Millet.