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Students need to know school’s purpose: New principal outlines approach to turn Fifth Ward’s fortunes

RESERVE — Toni Wilson said a mindset of college and career readiness comes from purposeful teaching in an environment where children can explore their talents.

The new Fifth Ward Elementary School principal noticed elementary students were surprised to learn their teachers and school administrators held college degrees when she served as a principal in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.

“We need to make sure students get into a mindset of asking, ‘what is the purpose of me coming to school,’ and ‘why is it important that I make good grades?’ ” Wilson said. “We want to get students mentally prepared for college and careers by showing them that’s the end goal of getting an education.”

College might feel far away to Fifth Ward’s preschoolers through fourth graders, but Wilson said it’s never too early to expose children to higher education.

According to Wilson, children view themselves as the future workforce of society when they are asked what they want to be when they grow up.

Assistant principal Dr. Brandy Vaughn, from left, assistant principal Rosalind Davis and principal Toni Wilson are busy getting ready for the 2018-19 academic year.

“A school needs to be an environment where students can learn what their talents are,” Wilson said. “Through clubs and activities, like science and social studies fairs, art club, dance teams, music clubs or drama productions, they can figure out what they like to do.”

Class discussions and college career nights will supplement this year’s career readiness focus, Wilson said.

Academics are key to building a bright future, she said, noting administration is working to identify deficits in standardized testing.

Superintendent Kevin George told L’OBSERVATEUR in June that Fifth Ward presents a unique challenge as the lowest performing public school with the highest percentage of students coming from poverty.

Beginning this year, Wilson said students would receive additional one-on-one time with instructors and a chance to complete and correct classroom assignments during extension writing/social studies and math/science enrichment periods.

Principal Toni Wilson motions to a Southeastern Louisiana University flag, signifying an initiative to increase college and career awareness among Fifth Ward Elementary students.

The enrichment periods are tailored to each student’s needs, Wilson said.

Other means of academic improvement will be decided during weekly and monthly meetings.

“Being new to the school, I want to first build rapport with the students and then address what needs to be changed,” Wilson said. “I think I have a great team committed and invested in the future of the students here at Fifth Ward. It will take some time, but I’m confident we will grow.”

Assistant principal Rosalind Davis is returning to Fifth Ward for the first time in 13 years, having most recently worked at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary.

Davis said faculty and administration are ready to dive into the school year, equipped with recent Tier One curriculum boot camp training and professional development opportunities.

“Everything we do is purposeful to ensure students get the best instruction possible,” Davis said. “We have a new leadership team, but the purpose is always the same.”

Parent involvement is instrumental to ensuring children are supported at home and at school, according to Davis. She said parents are going to receive newsletter updates from teachers and have opportunities to volunteer at school functions.

Any parent wishing to volunteer at Fifth Ward can call 985-536-4221.