New schools only part of success story

Published 11:45 pm Friday, June 13, 2014

Classrooms and schools are pretty fundamental to the education process, and no school district knows that as much as St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District.

Ravaged two years ago by the floodwaters of Hurricane Isaac, the school district is recovering through a mix of temporary locations and long-term building plans.

When school board members heard this month that a rebuilt Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School would not open until August 2017, some were upset, as were members of the public attending the school board meeting, where the news was shared with the community.

“I’m just a little disappointed we have to wait three years,” Gerald Keller, a veteran school board member, said.

However, school board member Keith Jones told board members they need to remember the negative impact that occurred with the rushed construction of Emily C. Watkins Elementary School.

School leaders said Emily C. Watkins battled moisture, mildew and mold issues following its completion, something no one wants to repeat.

Superintendent Kevin R. George is fond of saying “does it benefit the children” when deciding upon on school-district action.

Nothing would benefit young students in the long term more than a successfully built, new Lake Pontchartrain Elementary School, which would serve 800 pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students for years (hopefully decades) to come.

While they wait for completion, Lake Pontchartrain students will continue to use portable buildings located behind East St. John Elementary.

New buildings aside, success takes place within the classroom, not in the construction of it.

St. John the Baptist Parish Public School District leaders recently touted that the district ranked near the top among Louisiana school districts in increasing the number of students meeting or exceeding the state expectation level on LEAP and iLEAP tests for 2013-14 while acknowledging the tests were aligned to more challenging learning standards.

“This year’s LEAP and iLEAP assessments were transitional tests, fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards,” George said. “Despite the significant changes in curriculum and assessments, there has been stability in the parish. We are continually aligning our resources, training our staff and preparing our students to meet the demands of the CCSS.”

Stability in the parish can come from a new school, but it is more successfully achieved through a singular plan of action that starts in the superintendent’s office and permeates through principals, teachers and — most importantly — students.

Better performances on state tests are real. It’s something to build on as equally strong as any structure’s concrete foundation.

If a three-year approach is needed to construct a rebuilt Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, then our students are served best served to continue where they are and eventually move into a new school with a new outlook.

Long-term success will ultimately be judged from within the classroom, not by the construction of it. That will benefit the children.

Stephen Hemelt is editor and general manager of L’Observateur. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or