Education Foundation builds momentum in St. John Parish

Published 12:04 am Saturday, August 27, 2022

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LAPLACE — The potential for growth in the community is dependent upon the growth of the public school system, according to members of the newly formed St. John the Baptist Parish Education Foundation.

Led by a seven-member board comprised of elected officials and community leaders, the Education Foundation has a goal to grow success and support quality education by generating and distributing resources to enrich, maintain and expand programs for excellence in education. This will be achieved by raising funds from businesses, individuals and civic organizations,

The Education Foundation was incorporated in November 2021, and meetings began in February 2022. As the nonprofit gets off of the ground, the two initial goals are providing scholarships for students and teachers.

In Spring 2022, the Education Foundation awarded scholarships to six high school students – three from East St. John and three from West St. John. Each student received $10,000 to support higher education expenses for a grand total of $60,000. As of August 2022, all six of these students are enrolled in college.

The $60,000 investment in scholarships was part of an initial $350,000 donated by Marathon Petroleum Company to start the foundation. From the initial donation, the Education Foundation planned to use $60,000 to get teachers certified. However, with 77 non-certified teachers willing to participate in the program and a cost of approximately $5,000 per person, the expense proved to be much greater.

Earlier this month, Marathon announced a second $350,000 grant for the Education Foundation, which effectively pays for all non-certified teachers to participate in the certification program.

According to board member Tammy Houston, the certification program also promotes teacher retention in St. John the Baptist Parish schools. Each teacher participating in the program has committed to remain within the school system for at least five years.

Houston has a vision to raise test scores and morale within local schools.

“This foundation started with a vision. We want to bring education back to the grandeur of old, when we had school systems that we were proud of and we produced kids that were productive. Kids enjoyed learning and going to school. We want to bring the fun back, as well as the academic portion,” Houston said. “The consensus is that if we don’t have a good school system, we are not going to bring businesses and families here. We actually have families who leave because they want a free education in another system where they don’t have to pay for a private education.”

Moving into the 2022-23 school year, Education Foundation president Debbie Schum wants to raise awareness of the opportunities available. Only 12 students applied for the 2022 scholarship, a number Schum would like to see increase this year.

According to Schum, other goals the Education Foundation is working toward include recognizing staff for exemplary service, offering small grants to teachers, and inspiring parents to participate in the school system.

The St. John the Baptist Parish Education Foundation is modeled after a successful organization in Texas which offers incentives for high achievement for schools, teachers and scholars.

“I think we have to build the community’s trust in our schools,” Schum said. “That’s something we haven’t achieved yet. I think it’s important that we have a very diverse group of board members that unite all avenues.”

Schum and Sherry DeFrancesch, the secretary/treasurer of the Education Foundation, both serve on the St. John Parish School Board, while Houston serves on the Parish Council. Other board members include Louisiana State Senator Ed Price, Sheriff Mike Tregre, Virgie Johnson of the St. John Parish Library Board of Control, and Iman Montgomery of Marathon Petroleum. While not a board member, Assessor Lucien Gauff was also instrumental in the formation of the Foundation.

The Education Foundation’s first community meet and greet, held this week at the Lloyd B. Johnson Law Enforcement Training Center in LaPlace, saw participation from numerous business leaders and elected officials.

“The people in this room could solve a lot of problems in St. John Parish,” Sheriff Tregre said. “I know as sheriff, there is no way we are going to arrest ourselves out of our problems. We’ve got a good parish. What’s frustrating is that I know we can be better than what we are, and that’s why I’m part of this foundation.”

Senator Price said he is proud to be part of a board that seems to be moving in the right direction.

“We want our kids to go to college, but also part of our vision is what we are doing with teachers and providing scholarships to get them certified,” Price said. “We need businesses, parents, everybody to be involved in this.”