Interim superintendent commends defeat of LDOE accountability proposal

Published 9:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2022

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RESERVE — Following a six-hour special meeting on November 10, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opposed a proposal that would have decreased the number of Louisiana public high schools attaining an ‘A’ or ‘B’ letter grade beginning in 2026.

In 2021, St. John the Baptist Parish Schools received a 59.7 ‘C’, a simulated district rating that took into account the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. John Parish Public Schools were not included in the 2022 school and district performance scores released by the Louisiana Department of Education on November 16 due to more than 18 consecutive days of closures caused by Hurricane Ida.

St. John the Baptist Parish Interim Superintendent Rebecca Johnson was among the educational leaders who opposed the “Accountability Study Group” proposal from the Louisiana Department of Education, which she said was based upon a reverse engineered formula designed solely to make it harder to become an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ school.

“Our voices were heard, and I think we need to recognize everyone that supported this resolution,” Johnson told the St. John School Board during the most recent meeting in Reserve. “If it wasn’t for your support and the superintendents’ support and all of the voices that were heard, they would have passed this accountability proposal, and it would have greatly impacted not only our district but also several districts across the region.”

In response to the LDOE proposal, the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and other education groups proposed an accountability system based on a 100-point scale that aligns to A-F ratings that are easier for parents to understand.

In her superintendent report, Johnson noted that St. John Parish Schools are taking steps to increase student, school and district achievement. Scholarship letters were recently sent out to nearly 70 teachers participating in a certification program. Funding has been provided by the St. John Parish Education Foundation via a donation from Marathon Petroleum.

“Within one year, we will have 67 more certified teachers in this district and a commitment from them to remain in this district for five years to educate our students,” Johnson said.

Recognizing a major shortage in the field of aviation, Johnson said that professional aviators are partnering with the district to broaden career choices for high school students. These professionals are dedicating time and resources to helping the district develop a comprehensive aviation program that will offer an advanced credential to high school students in conjunction with drone programs at both high schools and the STEM Magnet Program.

St. John Parish Schools are also set to begin an expansion with River Parishes Community College in Reserve to made more career and technical opportunities available.

Johnson also reported that efforts are being made to make schools safer with the implementation of the RAVE app, which was once a charged service but is now being offered free to the school system. All campus locations have been geofenced and connected virtually to Louisiana State Police and the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office to ensure an all hands on deck response to emergencies at the press of a button.

St. John Parish Schools will also utilize a CrimeStoppers anonymous tip line where students can report crimes or anything that makes them feel unsafe.

School Board member Ali Burl said there have been a couple of instances where Facebook has been used as an anonymous tip line before administration could investigate the matter. These reports at times ended up being unfounded, and Burl reminded the community to contact administration first with concerns so accurate information can be dispersed to parents and the community.

In other St. John Parish School Board news:

  • The School Board passed a resolution that will allow $58 million in bond funding approved by voters during the April 2022 election to become available to spend in early 2023. Jason Akers of Foley & Judell said February 1 is the target date to have funds available; however, it may be closer to March 1. These funds can only be used for capital improvement/ construction bond projects. Akers added that 11 mills in property taxes will be levied for the general obligation bonds to ensure there is no increase in taxes to the public.
  • Demolition of the 9,000 square foot West St. John Elementary Annex building is planned for Summer 2023 so as to not disrupt school and bus traffic. Cindy Janecke of South Central Planning said the building contains asbestos and will need to be abated prior to the physical demolition. Including abatement, the total cost is expected to be in the neighborhood of $250K to $300K.