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George: St. John Public School District shines brightest when working together

When I first became a superintendent, one of my superintendent colleagues told me that as each year passes superintendents lose 10 percent of their support.

He stated that every year you have to hire and fire employees. When you fire someone, they have supporters and relatives who withdraw their support. When you hire someone, everyone else who was not hired has supporters and relatives who withdraw their support.

He ran through a litany of issues that must be done as a superintendent and how it erodes the support that is present when you walk through the door. These issues contribute to the short tenures of superintendents nationwide, which is only 3.18 years according to a 2014 study conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools.

I am proud to say that I have not experienced this phenomenon. This is my sixth year as superintendent of this school system and, in a recent article published in L’OBSERVATEUR, editor Stephen Hemelt wrote that local voters “(O)verwhelmingly backed established leadership during fall and winter elections.” Unequivocally, this community supports this School Board.

In last month’s release of School Performance Scores, seven of our 10 schools made gains on the more rigorous report card formula. The three schools that did not grow were Fifth Ward, East St. John Preparatory and West St. John High.

Even though East St. John Prep and West St. John High did not grow, they were both recognized by the Louisiana Department of Education for being a Top Gains School (receiving a rating of “A” for student growth) and an Equity Honoree (performing better than 90 percent of all schools in the state across various student groups) respectively.

In my six years as superintendent, there has only been one year when this district declined. I credit our employees, students, parents and all community stakeholders for working with us to accomplish these results.

Even with these respectable results, we are just scratching the surface for learning.

We are currently in year two of implementing a new process for teacher leadership, student learning and instructional practices called the Teacher Advancement Project.

This is in conjunction with a five-year Teacher Incentive Fund Federal Grant that awarded the district $7.7 million to implement this coordinated effort to increase student outcomes. Because of the changes in standards, we have adopted new curriculum aligned to these new standards.

This has been a monumental shift to teachers around the state as we all grapple with providing the requisite professional development for our instructional staff. These changes have been all at once and unprecedented in the annals of Louisiana educational history.

We are working on these items with a systemic approach centered around five priorities: Implement Tier-One Curricula in all major content areas; Establish goals to improve student outcomes; Use standards-based assessments to monitor students’ progress toward meeting goals; Provide content-driven professional development for leaders and teachers; Connect Observation and Feedback to curricula resources.

This plan was presented in detail to our board in August.

The board will be provided with a written update on our plan prior to the Christmas holidays so that they can have ample time to review and be prepared for our upcoming January School Board Retreat.

I want to thank our faith-based community for walking with me and this board. We have meetings with them every other month and they have been well attended.

Other officials have joined us at these meetings including District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut, Sheriff Mike Tregre, Registrar of Voters Russel Jack, Tax Assessor Lucien Gauff and his Assistant Rodney Nicholas, local brokers, as well as Parish Council Members Lennix Madere Jr., Larry Sorapuru Jr. and Jaclyn Hotard.

President Natalie Robottom and I have also partnered to work on many joint endeavors.

When everyone comes together to achieve one goal, that goal no longer appears off in the distance, but rather, it becomes a reality.

Merry Christmas St. John! Let’s continue on the road to awesome!

Kevin George is superintendent for St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools. He can be reached at 985-536-1106 or kgeorge@stjohn.k.12.la.us.