Monday, October 21, 2013

Education Meeting Develops Themes & Draws Officials, Faculty, Administrators, Media

The following summary was drafted by ABS Intern, Amanda Currier, and edited by Loren Demerath

We packed the house last week welcoming school faculty, administrators, superintendents, school board members, organization leaders and other concerned citizens to focus on education and reform.

As you may know, ABS is holding themed meetings this year to allow the group to focus on community issues of concern and to develop goals and strategy.
Dr. Loren Demerath, Executive Director of ABS, officiated over the meeting.  After going around the room with introductions from everyone, he explained that the focus of this meeting was to be on education.  He then opened the floor for issues that our community can focus on for the improvement and growth of our educational system.
Below is a list of issues the group noted, some of which could guide themes of subsequent meetings.
Higher Education can be used for growth and development

It was noted that although LSUS will offer an EDD starting in January of 2014, we are still one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country without a research oriented university that offers a full slate of graduate programs.

Recruitment of teachers needed for all levels of education

More emphasis needs to be placed on Professional Development. There was once a  masters program in urban education offered in New Orleans. Can we locate these types of teachers and administrators to help improve our education here?

Recruitment needed for School Board

We need strong voices that will advocate best practices used elsewhere in education and will push the interests of the community as a whole.

Policy-makers need to hear school administrators

A very moving proclamation was given by Priscilla Pullen, Principal of Midway Elementary Professional Development School in Shreveport. She told of how student proficiency had improved over the past couple of years, but said the state educational standards ignore any immediate progress and has discouraging effects on both students and faculty. By averaging the test scores of students over a number of years instead of focusing on each child’s individual progress or each class as a whole, the improvement factor is obscured, she said.  “In celebration of the improvements made from approaching basic levels to mastery levels, we took 42 children that excelled to Party Central as a reward. No one knows that story,” Pullen said.

This is true of most of the schools in the area — notably, about being criticized and losing support when they fall just a little below the standard means, but in an overall effort have improved in leaps and bounds.

Resist one-size-fits-all solutions, also those that are short-term and overly simplistic

It was noted we should avoid the mindset that one solution will fit across the board. The needs of each school, each child even, are individual, and they deserve to have support and materials tailored to those individual needs.

Magnet High teacher and ABetterShreveport member Robert Trudeau remarked that policy-makers are wanting short-term results on long-term problems.  

Commit to help parents and consider involving the community

A critical first step is to acknowledge that a lot of parents really do care. It is our job as a community to find out what they need.  What kinds of parental incentives can we put in place, and how can the community’s involvement including employers strive to boost those parental incentives?  It was noted that lower income parents and single parents often do not have the schedule flexibility to help their kids in the same way others do, but employers could give them the time off to attend meetings, etc.

Note successful organizations/programs that are making a difference.

We need to recognize organizations such as Prime Time, Readwell Mentors, Grace Community Church, Aspire @ Fair Park and the Partnership with BPCC, etc., for the work that is already being done. There are also programs such as Outstanding Readers that offer a reward of bicycles as incentives for participating and excelling. LSUS brings in Christmas gifts off the children’s wishlist.

We also need to continue this idea of “Double Dipping” across the board to boost morale and offer encouragement to students and support to the faculty and administrators.

It was noted we can publicize and support these programs through radio, blogs, etc., focusing on those in the community who are making improvements towards academic excellence and even those individual students who have themselves gone beyond expectations.  

There is also a need to recognize the after-school programs for continuing the support and enrichment to those underprivileged children, such as the Renzi Center on Egan Street.

Without that publicity and recognition, people may think that donations of time and money, or tax dollars that go to these programs don’t help, when in fact, they do.

Jennifer Hill, of the Renzii Center, noted also that teachers and administrators cannot be held responsible for the lack of safety, educational support and enrichment the children face in their home life.
Acknowledge the value of compromise and change

It was noted that without compromise, or the willingness to change, little progress is likely on long-term problems that otherwise seem intractable.  (Along those lines, perhaps the issue of charter schools could be the theme for this group next month? - LD)

Acknowledge the microscope put on teachers and unspoken critiques

Dr. Mary Nash-Robinson, Interim Superintendent for Caddo Parish Schools, said, our teachers and administrators are not opposed to “upping the game,” however, these discussions can sometimes devalue the work that these educators and administrators are doing in our community. They are really working hard to make a difference. We need to be taking care of the needs of the children. This will have to be our focal point.

Note successes in teacher empowerment & autonomy

Special guest, J. Delano Ford, the Assistant Superintendent of the state’s Recovery School District and recently appointed Executive Director of the Recovery School District in Caddo Parish, commented as well:
“There is a need to see education head into a more career preparatory direction. By acknowledging that it is public education’s responsibility to provide the foundation for students to make that transition into adulthood by equipping them with the skills they will need to attend college, whether they choose to attend or not, [the end result will be a quality education],” Ford said.
Meeting to discuss the issues is just the first step. The hardest part is to refine and implement those goals and solutions to bring about reform.
Mr. Ford gave an example of a teacher who is making a difference. Ms. Martinez uses pillows on a carpeted floor instead of desks and a different kind of lighting to create a unique setting for learning in which that the students are eager to get involved.
“Our Teachers and Principals need to be treated as professionals and allowed to do what they need to do. Accountability factors need to be upheld by all including pushing for educational reform and forming partnerships to create a solution that’s best for students in these schools. If we are still using values and ideals from 1985 for the class of 2013, how can this be beneficial to anyone?” Ford said.
Use the central role of organizers like Community Foundation for coordination and funding /grant help
Paula Hickman of the Community Foundation was encouraged by all the different efforts towards improving education in our city that she sees from her sort-of bird’s eye perspective.  
Hickman described the Community Foundation’s new Step Forward Program, addressing three different needs: parental education and resources, Kindergarten readiness, and third grade reading.
Hickman noted that raising awareness within the community will aid in getting the education right to prepare our children to be our future leaders. Bringing back the pride in schools to value education, and being willing to invest to give our children a second chance in education can help us make this a city that stands for excellence in education.  Demerath noted that you can build a city on that!

In Attendance at Monday Night’s Meeting:
Delano Ford, RSD  
Kimberly Bryant, RSD
Deborah Allen, ACLU of LA
Brian Salvatore, Citizen of Caddo/LSUS faculty (Brian Salvatore, Chemistry LSUS, part of ABS, deeply committed to education)
Priscilla Pullen, Caddo Principal
Jon Soul, Montessori School
Maurice Laridans, ABS
Tom Arceneaux, Highland Restoration Assn.
Elizabeth Arceneaux, Highland Restoration Assn.
Robert E. Trudeau,
Miac Brooks-Cooper, Atkins Technology
Lani Duke, ABS,
Cathy Bonds, Fair Park Alumni Association
Wayne Hogue, LA Tech S-BC
Lloyd Thompson, NAACP
Don D. Otis, Ret. Law Enforcement
Paula Hickman, Community Foundation
Feico Kempff, ABS
Katherine Brandl, Centenary Faculty, ABS
Ruth Ray Jackson, LSUS
Cynthia Keith, Dog Park Alliance
Mary Nash Robinson, Interim SuperIntendent
Jennifer Hill, Renzi Center

Thanks to all who attended!  Stay tuned for the topic of our next meeting on education, likely on November 11th, and themed on the issue of charter schools.

Next Monday the 21st: Trails and Paths with MPC Planner Dara Sanders!  Join us to talk about converting drainage ditches and levees!  

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