Board shakes up poor performing Fifth Ward; New school breakdowns with ESJE are PreK-4 & 5-8

Published 12:12 am Saturday, March 18, 2017

RESERVE — The elephant in the room, according to St. John the Baptist Parish Public School leaders, is Fifth Ward Elementary has been the district’s lowest performing school for years and something substantial is needed to better serve its students.

School Board members approved that substantial measure this week, voting to create a new student population distribution plan for Fifth Ward and East St. John elementary schools.

Starting this fall, Fifth Ward Elementary will house prekindergarten through fourth grades, while East St. John Elementary will house a fifth through eighth grade.

School Board members approved the move 10-0. School Board Member Gerald Keller was not present for the vote.

When asked if the configuration change was the first of many for St. John, Superintendent Kevin George said that was not the case.

“We’re not going to a district-wide model,” George said. “We’re looking at a targeted model that focuses on a school that has been chronically low performing. We’re going to do everything we can in order to address that so that it is no longer a low-performing school.”

School Board Member Patrick Sanders said it is important for the Board to empower the administration to create positive changes.

“If we don’t take the necessary steps to move forward to help the children academically, we’re failing them and failing as Board members,” he said. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting. There is a need for a change. We have a struggling school.”

Audience member and LaPlace resident Carolyn Jean Batiste questioned the move’s timing, suggesting not enough had been done to inform parents and community members.

George said five public meetings were held and many questions answered.

“By the time we got to the third and fourth meeting, some of those concerns were alleviated,” he said. “Obviously, not 100 percent of every parent and teacher is saying, ‘hey, let’s get this done,’ but an overwhelming majority of parents and our teachers and administrators are on board with this process.”

George said the plans gained steam at the School Board retreat in January and benefits students at a struggling school.

“I have no doubt it will be a good situation for our children,” he said. “We’re going to have kids that are performing at higher levels.”

Fifth Ward is currently rated a D school by the state, while East St. John Elementary is rated as a C school.

School officials said East St. John Elementary showed the most growth among St. John public schools in the most recent state ratings, increasing its performance score by 9.5 points.

In other business, the School Board announced plans to call for a millage renewal election at its next meeting.

If approved next month, voters would be asked in the fall to approve existing taxes for another ten years.