Hemelt: More active School Board serves notice with hiring freeze, new goals for St. John

Published 12:03 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

There is a plan to make a plan.

School Board members with St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools outlined a desire Thursday night to create two- and five-year plans addressing strategic benchmarks on a short-term and long-term timeline.

District 10 representative Nia Mitchell said the next step is for the school district’s planning committee to meet with subgroups outlining “deliverables and checkpoints” to ensure the District is on track to meeting its goals.

During their meeting Thursday night in Reserve, School Board members did not say when the checkpoints would be shared with the public.

Mitchell did outline the overarching goals of the effort, which Board members finalized by consensus during a late-January retreat.

Five highlighted target areas include:

• Create a positive and supportive school culture that fosters high performance for all students and employees.

This entails more professional development for staff members while decreasing school-site student discipline referrals and student assignments to the alternative school.

• Develop and implement rigorous aligned instructional systems.

“We plan to increase our district performance score by three points each school year and increase the availability of technology at each school by 5 percent each school year,” Mitchell said.

Provide a quality, financially viable school system that is sustainable.

“We want to provide a balanced budget annually,” Mitchell said. “We want to plan for future facility upgrades.”

School Board members said they will “allocate and lobby” for the necessary revenue to keep salaries competitive with neighboring parishes while also keeping class sizes below the state maximum requirement.

• Recruit, train and maintain a pool of certified and highly qualified staff, with St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools maintaining a teacher certification rate that is equal or higher than the state average. An emphasis will be put on internal internship opportunities to develop leaders from within the school system.

• Develop a comprehensive communications plan that promotes St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools. An emphasis will be put on greater parent involvement.

The public declarations of these goals exemplified a more vocal public stance for St. John School Board members, who are taking shape as a collective following last year’s elections.

School Board President Patrick H. Sanders, who represents District 4, introduced and saw the passing of a hiring freeze on District employment, excluding school-based personnel, special education employees and transportation staff.

Sanders said the freeze could last 30 days, 60 days or longer. School leaders have expressed to L’OBSERVATEUR the freeze is largely tied to an evaluation of high salaried central office personnel that some feel is not the most efficient use of available dollars.

Superintendent Kevin George told L’OBSERVATEUR he welcomed the feedback, noting St. John had recently operated without as much elected-leader direction.

“Oftentimes, the way it works is the School Board has a goal, a vision and a priority and they hire a superintendent to make it happen,” George said. “With me, it’s like they hired me and went with my vision, goals and what we needed to accomplish.”

George said the late-January School Board retreat set a dramatically different tone for how calendar year 2019 would operate.

“It was one of the better organized and productive meetings we have had in some time,” George said. “Our new Board president set the tone by giving an opening statement, where he discussed what he felt we needed to focus on, which was the kids and improving outcomes for the kids.”

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.