Education leaders brace for reforms

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

This is the third installment of a multi-part series examining the education reform package that will take effect in the coming year.



LAPLACE – With the new state education reforms ready to go into effect this upcoming school year, public school superintendents in the River Parishes say the school systems will be ready for the changes.

In St. James Parish, Superintendent Alonzo Luce said teachers and principals across the district have engaged in a series of professional development exercises designed to get them more acquainted with the Common Core State Standards, a more rigorous set of classroom principles that give educators and parents a common understanding of what students are expected to learn and know. The state standards are based on previous input from higher education leaders and employers in collaboration with teachers and school administrators in grades K-12.

“It is more rigorous, but it enhances the accountability in the classroom,” Luce said. “I think it should be seen as a positive. We have good teachers in the district, and this will be a chance to show it.”

St. John Superintendent Courtney Millet said teachers in her district have also engaged in meetings and other exercises in an effort to embrace the Common Core Standards. Millet said one of the key goals of exercises was to ensure the school system maintains a fair workplace where teachers can continue to embrace their creativity.

“It will be a challenge, but it isn’t a problem the system cannot handle,” Millet said. “Dedicated and effective educators are in this school district, and it will not affect their practices.”

While the reforms were making their way through the Legislature, Millet was one of a group of superintendents to speak before the state Senate Education Committee in support of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s proposed changes to teacher tenure practices. She said tenure reform would promote the retention of more effective teachers and reward them for making meaningful achievement in the classroom.

“It also would ban the practice of using seniority to make personnel decisions, streamline the due process procedures and eliminate blanket job protection,” Millet said. “The new system will provide a foundation for retaining our very best teachers should a reduction in force have to take place.”

Millet said the tenure reform will provide school districts, specifically the principals and school superintendents, with the autonomy and flexibility to make student achievement a laser focus of activities.

“We must recognize where we have wonderful educators and school principals who are making a tremendous impact in our districts, and we must retain, recognize and better support their efforts,” Millet said. “Reforming the current tenure system is a step forward in that effort.”

Meanwhile in St. Charles Parish, Superintendent Rodney Lafon said his district is also making the necessary adjustments in accordance with the Common Core Standards. He said schools will now have grades K-second, third through fifth, sixth through eighth and ninth through 12th housed together.

“We have had to reconfigure some schools and add to available classroom space at others,” Lafon said. “We have done quite a lot to make sure the public knows what is to come next school year. We know it is going to take parents some time to get used to it too.”

As for the teacher evaluation aspect of the new reforms, Lafon said educators in the district will be ready for the stiffer standards because the current evaluation system in the district is already very strong.

“There is always going to be some concern, but if the teacher is effective in our system, there will be no problem,” Lafon said.