State helping school districts with reforms

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This is the fourth installment of a series examining the education reform package taking effect in the coming year.



LAPLACE – With school districts across the state bracing for the changes coming from the state’s widespread education reform legislation, the Louisiana Department of Education on Monday announced the creation of a state support team to help smooth the transition to student curriculum changes and new methods for educator evaluations, both of which will begin in the coming school year.

The five-member support team will work directly with school districts as the state implements the new Compass evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards curriculum, the two main elements of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education reform package for the state’s public school system.

Common Core Standards is an initiative being used in state education systems across the country that attempts to better equip students for success after graduation. It targets English language arts and math courses. Louisiana’s rollout of the enhanced standards will also include an update to the state’s social studies curriculum. Kindergarten and first-graders will begin the new standards this August. All other grades will be taught a transitional curriculum, with everyone subject to the changes by the 2014-15 school year.

The Compass evaluation system requires 50 percent of a teacher or principal’s evaluation to be based on student growth – namely, test scores. The other half will be based on classroom observations by principals and others.

According to a release from State Superintendent John White, each school district will be grouped into one of five statewide networks mostly based on geography. Each network will consist of instruction specialists who will help districts adjust to the changes by playing on each district’s strengths.

A state education leader will oversee each network. St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes are grouped into a network to be led by Warren Drake, superintendent of the Zachary Community School District. The other four are Kerry Laster, deputy superintendent of Literacy, Gayle Sloan, district support officer in the Department of Education’s Innovation Office, Melissa Stilley, chief academic officer for the Tangipahoa Parish School Board, and Francis Touchet, principal of Erath High.

“We are changing the way we work with districts through tailored support rather than top-down programs,” White said. “We can work better and more efficiently by consolidating multiple offices into teams that customize support for school districts.”

Network leaders and teams will facilitate regular meetings with school districts to discuss what is working in classrooms statewide and what processes need further refinement. Network staff will work with district and school level administrators to regularly observe practices at the school level when it comes modifying curriculum, providing technical assistance, and aiding districts in braiding funds to better suit the needs of each district as the transition moves forward.