Wednesday, May 11, 2011
We urge the Lafayette Parish School Board to dig deep and look far in the selection of our next superintendent. An Independent Weekly Editorial
When Lafayette Schools Superintendent Burnell Lemoine announced a week ago that he will honor his contract and retire at the end of 2011, a collective sigh of relief rose up in our parish.
Lemoine has by no means been a poor administrator of our public school system. He oversaw the successful expansion of our academy/schools of choice programs — a feather in his cap to be sure — and has served our students conscientiously.
We wish him the best and thank him for his service.
The 43-year veteran of public education did exactly what we taxpayers expected him to do: captain the ship. Unfortunately, long before Burnell Lemoine became superintendent Lafayette Parish dropped anchor. We’re adrift as other Louisiana school districts — many of them less affluent and with far fewer resources — steam past us.
Our anemic growth and persistent inability to close the achievement gap between black and white students, our tepid expectations, our increasing abandonment of public in favor of private are unacceptable.
Companies looking to locate in Lafayette Parish don’t ask, “How are your private schools?” They want effective, efficient and safe public schools.
Lafayette’s prosperity depends on an educated workforce. More students graduating high school prepared for college or vocational training means fewer students dropping out, running the streets, breaking into our homes and populating our jail.
Some in our school system, administrators and board members, have said that poor children from distressed households simply cannot be educated. We say bull, and there’s data to back it up.
Lafayette Parish has an opportunity to replace Lemoine with a dynamic leader — a superintendent who will embrace reform or, at the very least, explore new, innovative methods of closing the achievement gap, increasing the graduation rate and rekindling the public’s confidence in our school system; a superintendent who will run our school system like a chief executive, make hard decisions — often unpopular decisions — and be held accountable for progress or a lack thereof.
|After being informed ahead of last Wednesday’s meeting that a majority of school board members opposed extending
his contract, Superintendent Burnell Lemoine announced he’ll retire at the end of the year.
We urge the Lafayette Parish School Board to pour its energy, its conscience, into selecting a superintendent who fulfills this role. Lafayette doesn’t need a good superintendent. We need a great superintendent.
We don’t need a candidate from within the Lafayette Parish School System — a lifer who has paid his or her dues and deserves a chance. We believe the LPSB should look not only outside Lafayette but outside Acadiana for a superintendent with no ties to us, no friendships, no conflicts of interest.
We believe this superintendent can be found without the needless expense of a search firm. Appoint a blue-ribbon, volunteer committee from within Lafayette Parish — business leaders, educators, professionals who have a stake in our future and who understand the mettle it takes to successfully run a $250 million enterprise.
We need long-term, stable leadership at the top. As we learned last week, the board is likely to place before voters this fall a property tax proposition for our facilities master plan. Asking taxpayers to pony up $600 million dollars — just more than half of the $1.1 billion plan — without that leadership in place is a non-starter.
Let’s get this right.
At the end of the 2010 school year, the most recent for which state-generated data are available, Lafayette Parish ranked 24th among 71 school districts in Louisiana. A few years ago Lafayette ranked 18th. A couple of decades ago, we were in the top 5. It’s not that Lafayette Parish is sliding — it’s more a microcosm of what’s happening with the United States versus the rest of the industrialized world: while our growth is stagnant, we’re being leapfrogged by others. Lafayette Parish’s growth in District Performance Score from 2009 to 2010 — 96.3 to 96.5 — was just two-tenths of 1 percent. Stagnant.
Even the Orleans Parish School System, gutted when the state created the Recovery School District following Hurricane Katrina and a system that has few schools to maintain and manage, holds a higher DPS than Lafayette — 110.3 to our 96.5.
Some of these newer leaders on the list are school districts that broke away from their host parishes — districts like the Zachary and Central school districts, Nos. 1 and 6, respectively. Each seceded from the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, which is grappling with the stress of educating an increasingly at-risk, urban population.
Currently — and this will change at the end of the 2010-2011 school year — only N.P. Moss Middle School is considered academically unacceptable in Lafayette Parish, based on the state’s criterion that a school’s district performance score must be above 60. Moss, which at the end of last year earned a 51.9 DPS — the lowest among all public schools in the parish — will cease to exist at the end of the month, becoming Thibodaux Career & Technical High School.
But the state is also raising the bar for our public schools: Currently, schools must score a 65 or higher to be considered academically acceptable. In 2012 that threshold rises to 75. Not counting Moss, there are three schools in Lafayette Parish that, if their respective scores don’t rise, will be considered academically unacceptable at the end of the 2011-2012 school year: Alice Boucher Elementary (66.5 DPS), J.W. Faulk Elementary (69.1) and Northside High (70.3). Each school, not coincidentally, is in north Lafayette and has a majority black, low-income student population, which cuts to the heart of the Lafayette Parish School System’s Achilles heal — educating at-risk students.
Lest we forget, Lafayette Parish ranks at the top of the middle third in a state that ranks near the bottom nationally. We have very little to be proud of. Yet, with Lemoine’s imminent retirement, we have much for which to be hopeful.
This newspaper has pointed out as recently as two weeks ago — and others have made a similar observation — that the LPSS does a good job of educating our best students but a poor job of educating our at-risk students, particularly black males from poverty.
But state Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek counters that even our “white, wealthy schools” are hardly meeting or exceeding state expectations. According to Pastorek, nearly all schools with a performance score of less than 100 have a failure rate of more than 25 percent.
Of the 38 schools in Lafayette Parish, less than half performed above the 100 mark in 2009-2010.
Indeed, poverty, regardless of race or ethnicity, presents unique challenges to education. Poor students tend to have fewer resources at home and less parental support. They often come from single-parent households and have fewer examples around them of the benefits of a good education.
But a decent education and poverty are by no means mutually exclusive. Look no further than the Knowledge is Power Program public charter schools in New Orleans and across the country.
According to state DOE data, the average school performance score for KIPP in New Orleans is 104.2. These schools are overwhelming black and poor, yet they manage to best LPSS’ DPS by nearly eight points.
KIPP’s performance is in sharp relief to the overall RSD, which, despite far-better-than-state-average progress over the last three years, remains a bottom dweller with a DPS of 60.6 following the 2009-2010 school year. But even within the RSD, not counting KIPP, there are examples of progress. Pastorek has characterized what’s happening in New Orleans as “an experiment”: Give multiple charters in various molds a chance; scrap those that don’t succeed, embrace those that do. Learn from it.
The charter school movement in New Orleans, which has the highest percentage in the country of children in charter schools, is the basis of a documentary film by Baton Rouge native and former WWL TV reporter Ben Lemoine (see sidebar) titled The Experiment.
Nationwide, the non-profit KIPP schools, according to a recent, large-scale study, shatter the notion that poor kids can’t learn and underscore that high expectations count. While 95 percent of KIPP students are black and Latino and overwhelmingly low-income, 33 percent who completed a KIPP middle school at least 10 years ago now hold a bachelor’s degree. Eight percent of similar, non-KIPP students have a college degree.
KIPP now operates 99 schools in 21 states from coast to coast with an enrollment of more than 27,000 students in elementary, middle and high school. An astonishing 95 percent of students who complete a KIPP middle school program graduate from high school. Ninety-five percent.
Taking a cue from such data, 100 Black Men of Greater Lafayette, a civic group that neither numbers 100 nor is entirely black men, is urging the LPSS to strive for a 95 percent graduation rate for all students.
As it stands, Lafayette Parish had a 70.4 percent graduation rate in 2010. But the historical chasm between grad rates for white and black students remains: While nearly 78 percent of white students graduated, only slightly more than 60 percent of black students earned diplomas.
At our current growth rate, it will take Lafayette Parish 31 years to hit 95 percent for all students, according to a projection by 100 Black Men.
Charter schools are not the end all-be all of a better public education system, but they should be examined without prejudice and, when a model is shown to be effective, embraced.
Yet school systems across the state, our own included, continue to balk at charter schools and other reform paths being tried nationwide, afraid the ends may not justify stripping money and power away from central office.
But that may be coming to an end in Lafayette: Last week The Ind learned through a source outside the school system but close to the action that a simple majority — five board members — were opposed to extending Lemoine’s contract and would vote against the extension if it came down to it. Lemoine was notified before Wednesday’s meeting and opted to make a graceful announcement that he will retire at the end of the year. This is cause for optimism — a sign that progressive leadership may be developing within the LPSB.
We must reform the way we do public education in Lafayette. Our next superintendent must grasp that simple notion, and so must we as the system’s biggest stakeholders. Our community has the chance to stand up and demand substantial change in the form of an open-minded, non-traditional superintendent who isn’t embedded in the politics of the state’s struggling system.
There’s too much riding on it.
|Filmmaker Ben Lemoine, center, with, from left, The Experiment’s Derick
Route, Gerald Carter, Keeland Lewis, Kalani Lewis and Sam Morten
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Downtown Lafayette restaurant launches new concept near Le Triomphe
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Yeah, it's smoked venison sausage stuffed in a suckling pig stuffed in a lamb and roasted over an open fire.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Reamco founders Brent Milam and Ashley Lane now shareholders in acquiring company and part of its management team.
Low heels, high style
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
The board hopes to recover all fees paid, plus one-half, along with what could amount to hundreds of thousands in additional penalties.
Oh, the irony... or something like that.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
St. Patty's Day crafts
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.