Education summit unites River Parishes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 27, 2009



LAPLACE – During a meeting with local business leaders in LaPlace Friday, education leaders from across the River Parishes touted higher achievement scores, more technology in the classroom and increased enrollment as proof that school systems in the region are improving.

Superintendents from St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes, along with administrators from the area’s community and technical colleges, spoke to a group of about 40 business leaders, parish officials and school board members about the state of education in the River Parishes during the River Region Chamber of Commerce’s annual education summit at Bull’s Corner Restaurant in LaPlace.

Each of the superintendents spent about 15 minutes expounding on a number of positives enjoyed in the past year.

St. James Parish schools Superintendent Lonnie Luce said despite a decline in parish population, enrollment at west bank schools is up over last year and eight out of 10 schools in the parish have experienced some growth. Luce said the public schools have become more competitive with private and parochial schools.

Luce said the district is also continuing with a plan to provide laptop computers to students. He said last year all seventh-grade students in the parish had access to laptops, and now the program is expanding to include eighth-grade students. The school system hopes to continue to provide laptops and add one grade per year.

He also discussed state budget cuts and millage rollbacks in St. James Parish but said the school district is “striving to continue to do more with less.”

St. John Parish schools Superintendent Courtney Millet began by addressing a movement in the parish for more coherence among principals in the district.

“Being a principal for nine years, I often felt like I was almost on my own little island in the school,” Millet said. “We’re just trying to build that cohesion between schools so they are getting the same thing across the board.”

Millet spoke about the implementation of best practices in regard to making sure all students in the district are reading on the appropriate grade level.

“If we can’t teach our children how to read, then we can’t get anywhere else,” Millet said. “We have got to have everyone reading on grade level.”

Millet said even with implementation of a new system, English, language and art scores showed increases in every grade level.

Millet also discussed a district-wide construction program for new construction and improvements tied to a $46 million bond renewal that was approved last year.

In St. Charles Parish, Superintendent Rodney Lafon touted his district’s going through the process of re-accreditation as an advanced education district. Lafon said St. Charles will be the first school district in the state to seek re-accreditation.

Lafon talked about increased safety measures at all schools, as well as an initiative by the school board to bring covered playground areas at all elementary schools. He also said graduation rates in the district are at 84.5 percent, the second highest in the state.

On the college level Cindy Poskey, an administrator for Louisiana Technical College’s River Parishes campus, said dual enrollment by high school students has helped bring the college’s enrollment numbers up by 25 percent. She said administrators hope the increase can help make up for a $750,000 budget cut in the region.

River Parishes Community College Chancellor Joe Ben Welch said new state legislation allowing for the transfer of 39 course credits to all four-year universities has made it easier for students to segue into the university of their choice. He said in the past, the college had to sign specific agreements with universities.