Wise: Support adds to public school growth

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 23, 2016

Thank you very much for L’OBSERVATEUR’s endorsement of my plan to add new membership of an important School Board committee.

As you pointed out in your editorial, the St. John Parish community, and the school district it serves, are in many ways virtual strangers. Many, if not most, business leaders send their children to private or parochial schools, and so they have no real contact with the public schools their taxes pay for. And that’s a shame.

First, St. John’s public schools are much better than most people realize. We have one of the fastest growing systems in Louisiana in test scores.

A chart on our Home page, stjohn.k12.la.us, shows annual improvements in test scores for over 10 years in a row.

Our students qualify for more than $2 million in academic scholarships each year.

West St. John High School was named this year to be one of the Top Ten High Schools in the country for its successes among schools with high rates of student poverty.

Everyone knows about our athletic teams, but few people know that East. St. John High has a Robotics team.

And for the first time in Parish history, every public school will start the coming school year with a music program. Vocal music will be offered, as well as instrumental music.

Eight St. John teachers and administrators led seminars at the annual statewide Teacher Leaders’ Summit in New Orleans in June.

Four have been named as Teacher Leader Advisors.

Two principals were semi-finalists in last year’s Principal of the Year Awards and in one recent year, two principals were named Principal of the Year at the same time — one for Elementary Schools and one for High Schools!

I spent much of the last year in Baton Rouge and Washington, lobbying for funding for public schools. With Common Core on one hand and Bobby Jindal on the other, we’ve had little success. Part of it is that people in power simply don’t understand the value of public education.

But we’ve done a terrible job of blowing our own horn.

As Chairman of the School Board’s Finance Committee, I am asking the Board to add two more people to the committee, one from the Chamber of Commerce and one from the St. John Business Association.

The Chamber represents both large and small business in our community.

The Association is mostly small businesses.

Adding those two business representatives will accomplish two big things. One, it will provide valuable input on the School Board’s business practices from the Parish’s major taxpayers.

And, it will help the business community to understand the economic problems public schools face.

People come into an area for just two reasons — recreation and education.

The better the schools are, the more likely we are to attract new business and jobs.

We’ve already been improving.

Just imagine how much we can improve — and improve the Parish’s economy — with the support of groups like that!

Russ Wise is a St. John the Baptist Parish School Board member and past president of the Louisiana School Boards’ Association. He can be reached at 504-417-4447 or rwise@stjohn.k12.la.us.