[Editor's Note: This blog has been updated since its original publication to include information about reorganizational staff changes and additional comments from LPSS Superintendent Pat Cooper's turnaround plan presentation at Wednesday night's school board meeting.]
Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper publically presented his six-year plan Wednesday to transform the district from the "C" system it currently is to the "A" district the community has envisioned.
“We're going in the wrong direction,” Cooper told board members during a pre-meeting workshop for board members. “It's going to take some major league changes —major changes in attitudes, major changes in operations — for us to right this ship and get going in the right direction. [The turnaround plan] was very hastily done, but I'm not negating the effort. You have a quality plan, and we ask people to come in and take part in this process. We have 10 different task forces doing an amazing amount of work in a short period of time. It was a question of do we study this some more and take a lot more time, and then we're into next year and we can't change anything because we've done the budgeting and we're already committed. Now we've got a plan we can begin to operate from. It's not perfect, not anywhere near perfect, but it's darn good. This is a daunting task.”
The plan will be refined and finalized before going to the board for final approval on April 18. Cooper says at that meeting he will ask the board to approve a solid first-year plan so that the budgeting process can begin. He'll also ask the board to give the OK for a “conceptual” six-year plan to raise the district's performance score from a “C” (the district's current score) to an “A.”
“It's not just an A for the state grade, but an A in terms of the community,” Cooper says. “We want to have an A in both of those categories, and this plan reflects that. You're going to see some large amounts of dollars, but that doesn't mean those are new dollars. We just have to use the dollars we have in a different fashion, to say we can't afford this is a disservice to the people who have worked on this plan. Do you or do you not want to be an A school district in six years? If you do, then we're going to have to spend some money, and we're going to have to ask the community to spend some money.”
If the board approves the plan, he'll offer an introductory item on the April 18 agenda asking the board for approval on a reorganization of the district's staff, which will go before the board for a final vote in May.
The only staff reorganization details released in Cooper's turnaround plan documents include the structuring of the superintendent's office and his administration. Under his plan, Cooper would eliminate the two deputy superintendent positions at central office and have four key department heads working directly under him: executive director of human resources and operations, chief information officer, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer.
Cooper confirmed this week that Deputy Superintendents Lawrence Lilly and Katie Landry (one of the three finalists in the running for the superintendent position) are retiring in August and June, respectively. Neither Lilly nor Landry were immediately available for comment Thursday morning.
"There's a lack of continuity, accountability and procedures in place," Cooper told board members and a packed audience during the meeting. "We don't have procedures. We have seven different kinds of buses. We can't stockpile anything, can't get any major discounts. That's got to change. There's too much central office bureaucracy and interference, to the point where we threaten people and people are scared to speak up. We're about making sure that principals and teachers have what they need, and if they're afraid to speak up how do we know what they need?"
Cooper told the board that 60 percent of Lafayette Parish public school students "enter school not ready to learn and not healthy," with 30 percent of those eventually dropping out of high school. Of the 2,300 students who start first grade every year in Lafayette Parish, Cooper says many are at risk and have no access to health and mental wellness services.
An exact dollar amount for Cooper's first-year plan is still unclear, but Cooper assured board members during the workshop that “it's up to [Chief Finance Officer] Billy [Guidry] and I to figure out how to fund it within the parameters of what we can afford as a board.”
The following is a list of Task Force recommendations Cooper included, among countless other proposals, in the district's lengthy turnaround plan:
Task Force #1 - Health and Wellness
-Random drug testing for 2 percent of students in fifth through 12th grades, with follow-up for positive results
-Additional nine resource officers to cover middle and high schools, plus two elementary turnaround schools
-Mental health professionals and school counselors at a ratio of 1 per 450 students; 20 new positions for 2012-2013, 20 new positions for 2013-2014, 17 new positions for 2014-2015
-School nurses, 1 per 450 students; 7 new positions for 2012-2013, 10 new positions for 2013-2014, 13 new positions for 2014-2015
Task Force #2, Academics
-Establish an early childhood department — inclusive of all children birth to 5 years old.
-Establish eight LPSS Developmental Kindergarten classes.
-Establish five additional Pre-K4 classes every year to reach all at-risk 4 year olds within six years.
-Add an additional Pre-K3 class at Alice Boucher and JW Faulk elementary schools.
-Establish a Teen Pregnancy/Parenting Program – Phase 1 includes identifying all students who are pregnant or a parent and developing a plan to be piloted at Northside High School. Phase 2 – By 2014-2015, have the program at all nine high schools and child care assistance gradually added to each high school.
-Create a new Early Childhood Birth to 5 Model at JW Faulk, with a new facility to house the service.
-Reformat the district calendar and implement four 9-week periods with a one-week break in between for optional in-service days and/or remediation and grade recovery for students.
-Change school times – Pre-K3 school day would be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Elementary school day would run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Middle and high school days would start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
-Lower pupil/teacher ratio in K-5. By 2017, there will be a maximum of 13 students in kindergarten classes and a maximum of 18 students in fifth grade classes. Principals may negotiate based on funds and staffing needs. Emphasis will go to “D” schools.
-Create a data department at the district level to create, maintain and monitor student achievement, attendance and other accountability measures.
-Hire certified elementary/science education teachers to establish science labs in all elementary schools. Two schools currently have science labs in use.
-Expand distance learning through a virtual learning coordinator.
-Provide a supervisor of the arts for central district leadership, thereby consolidating supervision of all art forms.
-Create a new combined alternative education site (Opportunity School) to offer academic, behavioral and career services to students for whom a regular school setting has been ineffective. The school would be housed at NP Moss Annex.
-Expand the school day by 60 minutes to implement an eighth period for all students scoring below basic on state testing. The pilot sites will target “D” schools.
-Install a new wireless network with expanded coverage and capacity.
-Provide technology for classes to be attended virtually within the district, which means a teacher at any high school can teach a class with students across the district who attend class virtually.
-Most schools of choice academies offered at LPSS high schools would remain, though the Engineering and Environmental Science academies at Northside High School would move to David Thibodaux Tech High School to align with the S.T.E.M. Curriculum.
-The task force is exploring the possibility of merging the Academy of Performing Arts at Lafayette High School with the Academy of Visual and Applied Arts at Comeaux High. The joint academy would be housed at Comeaux High School.
-Thibodaux Tech would be designated as a grades 6-12 STEM magnet school, housing 300 middle school students and 900 high school students.
Task Force #3 – Facilities, Maintenance and Grounds
-Develop and utilize uniform construction codes.
-Continue the 12-pilot cleaning and grounds system throughout the district.
Task Force #4 – Communications/Outreach
-Establish a central location for parents to obtain information, access services and realize participation opportunities. Engage parents through the Parent Hotline.