Thursday, March 3, 2011

New Schools and School Board Requirements Discussed at Last Meeting

In attendance: Loren Demerath, Michael Hughes, Brian Salvatore, Maurice Loridans, Scott Hughes, Theron Jackson, Sara Galloway, Greg Andrews, Rob Rubel, Feico Kempff, Monica Gerhig, Karen Wissing.

The meeting began by people introducing themselves to each other, including first-time ABS attendants, Theron Jackson and Scott Hughes, who were earlier guests on the radio show, and Monica Gerhig, Greg Andrews, and Karen Wissing, who work at Sciport. Gerhig and Wissing noted that they've recently moved back to Shreveport after growing up here and were surprised and enthusiastic about the changes that appear to be coming about in the city.
The theme of the meeting for the evening was education, and Salvatore noted that many of us have passion about the

issue. Salvatore began the meeting noting that his daughter's University Elementary School is undersized for the population it serves, and many of the buildings are trailers on blocks. One of the issues is expansion of the schools; are we growing the city at the expense of the core?

Scott Hughes noted that Caddo operates 74 facilities with a total capacity for 70,000; but they are not nearly filled. The city has grown west and south. Bigger schools are needed because of the new locations of populations. Walnut Hill has 1800 kids, and it’s a big problem. Caddo Parish hasn’t built a new school since the 80’s. People shift around and we haven’t moved the city. Interestingly, the city is shrinking in the number of school-aged kids. It used to be much higher, but the number is now its down to 40,000. The University Terrace school shouldn’t have more than 800 kids, but has more than that. You can’t even gather in it. But the school board doesn’t want to vote to build a new school because it will mean shutting down an old school to which there’s attachment.

Loridans noted it used to be that people would move for better schools, not away from them. It was noted that the Magnet schools have worked to prevent white flight because they are bringing in middle class kids into the core city. The charter movement isn’t doing well in Louisiana because of that program. Caddo has a great “choice network”. Because people can send their kids to magnet schools, it’s allowed movement outside the core city, as part of sprawl that reduces walking and biking opportunities, and to places where there are really no schools.

Jackson said he talked with an official who's a Yale graduate and not a native of Louisiana and she didn’t understand the political realities of the state. He said if you were starting from scratch, you’d lay out the university system differently. But the previous system of racial segregation created a educational system that is now inefficient. Our 74 schools are partly a function of that history. The possible merger down-state between Southern and UNO is an example of grappling with those inefficiencies. Katrina has helped speed up the reform, but history and emotions can get in the way of direct reform. We've seen desegregation, said Jackson, but not integration.

Galloway agreed with a lot of what Jackson said, and reminded people of focusing on girls as well boys, citing the focus of the radio show, and the need to give students high expectations. Salvatore mentioned we talked about Title IX on the radio and how it legislates fairness. Hughes said there’s data that shows same sex settings for minority kids can be particularly effective. Jackson said research that’s been done in the U.K. shows both genders are helped by these settings; single sex classrooms have been shown to help both sexes; art, drama, and history for males, math and science for girls. Hughes noted that Fairpark High School has had some success with single-sex classes.

Salvatore said this is where our school board is failing. They should be taking up these issues; they’re afraid of losing schools to the state, and then the state eliciting charter schools. Jackson noted the school board is more important the city council in terms of what they directly impact: our future and our children. But it’s at the bottom rung of politics. Our students become victims of people who are not necessarily as committed to education as they are to politics. Jackson suggested we strip salaries away and find out who’s actually committed. Demerath agreed with Jackson's overall point, but wondered if people would object to stripping salaries, claiming it would mean only upper-middle class people could afford to be on the school board. Jackson also suggested that there be some continuing education requirements, where school board members learn about the history of education in American, budgeting, etc. There may even be a conflict of interest in the structure of the school board. The largest employers in the city are those in construction and education run by the city itself, yet it is administered by 8 people with 800 votes apiece. Often ex-teachers are running it, and they're not necessarily qualified to administer a huge budget with 6000 employees; the people who presiding over the system often have no qualifications to do so. Some noted that the school board should have requirements.

Karen Wissing asked if we have charter schools, and Hughes answered that we’ve had three. It was noted that Ronnie Banks has run for school board again after apparently unsuccessfully administering one of the charter schools. That failure has given the school board ammunition to say charter schools don’t work. Linwood was located well, and Linear never had the organizational experience. But it was noted that the charter system hasn’t proved to be the be-all end-all. You have to have a school that values the education, that has strong leadership, and where there are advocates each student, be they parents, or mentors from outside an immediate family. Anyone who's “adopted” them and cared enough to take them to school can suffice. Truancy is often the real issue. “Low achieving” schools get zero’s in their scores for kids that don't attend and eventually drop out. After 8th grade is the biggest drop-out period in Louisiana, the first time when they can drop out legally. High schools in the areas where they live get zeros for those kids for the next 4 years.

Greg Andrews asked why not have the parent or guardian punished for not taking the kids to school. Hughes said one juvenile judge refused to do it, apparently because those parents were his constituency. But, there is a new D.A. now who has said truancy is important and there's also a new judge who apparently will enforce it.

Hughes noted that Fairpark has 103 zeros and Byrd has none. But they have to do something like that or the school will end up pushing out the low achieving kids to increase its score averages and its overall rating. Otherwise they'll just abandon those kids. It's a way of hold the schools accountable.

Monica Gerhig noted that the kids are basically being pushed out if no one’s being there to go get them. Hughes noted that some schools have tracked them successfully, but it's hard to track high poverty kids. Moreover, its often seen as a more “efficient” use of school resources to give up on the worst students and concentrate on the mid-level students instead. For the lowest, the school has to teach them to read and then moving them up three more levels before the school can get credit for them.

On the hope for enforcing truancy, Greg noted that if you get enough speeding tickets you’ll eventually slow down. But Hughes noted that there should be a way of not just penalizing the parents, but penalizing the kids as well.

It was asked why don’t they send them to a residential school, and Hughes said there's been success with residential schools. Demerath noted that Centenary, like most residential colleges, is relatively unused during the summer. Jackson noted that charter schools would be better if they were more innovative; not just same curriculum. He believes in Garnder's theory of multiple intelligences, and there is a need to allow students to manifest those other intelligences in the course of their education. Others agreed, noting that would make the educational experience more fulfilling.

Jackson noted that Louisiana leads the country and world in incarceration rates; so education should be of particular value for us. We’re talking about adding pods to prisons, and closing schools. Wissing noted that Washington D.C. has the lowest literacy rates, and wonder about schools being used to track students into their expected class statuses. Jackson noted that teachers unions that can protect teachers at the peril of the students. Everyone has a representative except the students. There is a new bigotry of low expectations; put them in lower tracks because they’re not expected to achieve to do better. Hughes noted that perhaps a teacher’s pay should be based on a student's progress. Gerhig says she hears all the time at Sciport that students say school is boring. Mightn't that be the teacher's fault? The teacher may need to get innovative to tap into what interests the students but parallels with what they need.

Jackson noted that we may need to design centers of excellence, and to intervene at the lower level; put lots of resources at K-3 or K-5. They need to learn to read before they’re abandoned. We have some good middle schools, but the school board need to get that quality at all the schools. Most of all, Jackson noted, if we don’t change the way we make policy in our district, the schools will never get better.


Maurice thanked Brian for the photography of the Shreveport Commons tour. Shreveport Commons was the group putting it on. ABS can help publicize those things but we didn't know about it, though others part of Shreveport Commons didn't know about it either until just before.

On April 23rd is the cleanup for TACA, and on the 30th is the Maker’s Fair, jointly occuring with Asiana Festival and there will be a trolly used to transport people to ArtBreak at Convention Center (though it is pleasant walk there).

The last night of the Aspen Festival is Thursday, sponsored by the Community Foundation, and Paula Hickman reminds us that. Joel Klien will be on the film about education, and there will be a panel afterwards.

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