St. James opens books on tough curriculum

Published 9:59 am Monday, September 1, 2014

By Stephen Hemelt

LUTCHER — Anne Detillier doesn’t mince words or hide the reality of what the St. James Parish School District faces this school year with the implementation of Eureka Math and the Wonders Reading program.

“This is very challenging,” she said. “I think, for the most part, our teachers are on board. It has just been very difficult. It has been a hard transition, even though I do think we have the majority of our people on board.”

Detillier, the district’s administrative director of curriculum and instruction, is equally as straightforward when talking about the benefits of the school programs, which don’t focus — as previous efforts did — specifically on problem solving, but more on the application of teaching concepts.

“I think we will be seeing our students succeed in a more global world,” Detillier said. “I just think we are trying to set our students up for success, not just success here, but success globally.”

Detillier, joined by colleagues Danette Becnel, Tiwanaha Washington, Janet Cornelius and Renee Hartley, updated school board members this week on the district’s implementation of the programs, which call on more from educators, students and parents.

Becnel said because it is new, district officials anticipated innovative approaches were needed to support teachers, parents and students through the difficult transition.

Additional paid professional development days were added to the schedule to assist teachers in getting ready for this school year. Grading procedures were implemented district-wide to create grading consistency across all schools.

Routine grade-level meetings are also required of teachers so collaboration stays a focus.

“We are encouraging our schools to post links on their websites to different websites that parents can use,” Becnel said.

“We do have some schools that have some parents nights planned, as well. We are asking that schools and teachers provide newsletters for their parents.”

St. James Parish School Board President Charles Nailor Sr. said he knows the curriculum change is difficult for students, especially the older ones who are used to working a certain way.

“A lot of times when you start a new process, it is a matter of learning that process, then from there, fine tuning it,” he said. “We, as a board and educators, have to fine tune it and see what changes have to be made to make it better and easier for our kids.

“If you look at the states that have went through that process, the test scores dropped. I don’t want to get that in our students’ heads. Our students can fool us. Right now, with the way kids do things, you might be surprised. Tell them they can do it. Instill in their heads that they can do it.”

School district administrators will monitor grade distributions throughout the school year at each school to make sure grades are not plummeting.

“If they are, we can add in our own level of support to teachers, students and parents,” Detillier said.

“As far as the outreach to the parents, our schools know the parents. When you allow them to handle it based on their needs, we have had success.”