An education forum hosted by The Daily Advertiser and Louisiana Progress Monday night highlights two very different paths toward education reform, as some local stakeholders touted Superintendent Pat Cooper’s turnaround plan as a “silver bullet” for Lafayette Parish public schools while a state lawmaker somewhat defended the state’s new voucher program and other measures the Legislature took this session to turn around Louisiana’s failing system.
Speakers at the Louisiana Progress/Advertiser forum included Lafayette Parish School System Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau; UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie; Board of Elementary and Secondary Education representative Holly Boffy; United Way of Acadiana President and LaPESC member Margaret Trahan; state Sen. Page Cortez of Lafayette; Lafayette Parish School Board President Shelton Cobb; retired teacher Melinda Mangham, and former BESE member Mary Washington.
Locally, the community has watched a group of outside stakeholders some 6,000 strong come together in the form of the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council, a local education advocacy group that played an integral role in bringing Cooper to Lafayette and helping the new super to shape the district’s six-year plan to transform the district from the ‘C’ grade it currently maintains to the ‘A’ system he envisions.
“[The turnaround plan] is our silver bullet in Lafayette Parish; the challenge in all of this is the political will to see it through,” United Way’s Trahan said. “That plan captures what the community's hopes and aspirations are. It's our challenge to sustain the momentum and engage in the political conversations that need to happen. That way it becomes a reality instead of being picked apart by its opponents.”
LPSS’ Billeaudeau, taking Trahan’s comment a step further, described it as “having skin in the game.”
“We have to put mechanisms in place to support and uplift teachers, not suppress them,” Billeaudeau said. “We're asking them to join us in this unique opportunity to make a difference, because 30 percent dropout rate is unacceptable. A 20 percent dropout rate at Lafayette High is absolutely unacceptable. Until we get bull mad and say enough is enough, we have to do this for the growth of our community, that's when true change comes.”
On a state level, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature education reform package sailed through the legislative process with ease, paving the way for more charter schools, more hiring and firing power for superintendents and, among numerous other measures, the drastic statewide expansion of a voucher program in New Orleans that sends low-income students to private schools on the public’s dime.
The voucher program has been by far the most controversial of Jindal’s measures, as the administration now finds itself defending three lawsuits filed against the state over the constitutionality of the voucher program and Jindal’s state Superintendent of Education John White continues to take the heat for the lack of accountability measures put in place for private schools accepting voucher students.
“The effect [the voucher program] is going to have, no one really knows,” Cortez admitted during the forum. “Don't have C, D and F schools in your district and you won't have movement to private schools.”
It’s an assertion that Lafayette High School teacher and recent National Education Association Foundation award finalist Rodolfo Espinoza publicly questioned during Monday’s forum.
“We constantly hear about failing schools and schools failing kids. I believe there's a slight focus problem,” said. “Shouldn't we be saying we have schools with large percentage of students having problems? The current system does nothing but penalize and hemorrhage those schools to death. Shouldn't we focus resources like a laser beam, which is what's taking place at Northside, statewide? The school systems with the greatest academic achievement in the world have the least privatization.”
Washington, a retired BESE member, pointed out that “a lot of people have blamed Bobby Jindal for the debacle.”
“I don’t blame the governor. That’s what governors are supposed to do,” she said. “They're supposed to come up with the most grandiose ideas they can think of and put it out there. It's the job of the Board of Education and the Legislature to vet those ideas and to ensure that the public treasury is protected. If, in fact, they have not increased the size of the legislative auditor's office both in funds and personnel, we're going to have some problems. There is no way we have enough people working at the Department of Education to regulate all we have opened up.”
MAY 20 This post by blogger CB Forgotston draws parallels between Gov. Bobby Jindal and two individuals he probably doesn't want to be aligned with: President Obama and former governor Edwin Edwards. CB says Jindal's trying to jack up the debt ceiling (an Obama play, according to CB) and buy votes from GOP leges who normally wouldn't go for that (an Edwards play, CB says).
MAY 20 Here's a post in the Baptist Message from an alumnus of Louisiana College. The author, Larry Burgess, calls on the leadership of the private school to take care of some pressing problems. Physical plant issues are critical and unaddressed, some faculty make so little they need government health care, and there is an atmosphere that does not encourage honest discussion, he writes. It's time to get things back in order, he says.
MAY 20 This post in Gambit tells of a benefit concert scheduled to raise money for the 19 people shot during a Mother's Day second line on Frenchmen Street in NOLA. Among them was Gambit blogger Deb Cotton, who spoke frequently about violence in the city and reported on the city's second line culture. Gambit's foundation, along with other NOLA non-profits, also is selling t-shirts to raise money for the victims.
MAY 20 Blogger Robert Mann is critical of the personal interest some legislators take in their work here, sharing the comments one NOLA solon made in explaining his decision to vote against a bill that would require people to stop discriminating against female workers. His wife might lose some salary, so he was going to have to vote against the equal pay bill, Conrad Appel said. Appel and everyone who heard him should have been ashamed, but they weren't, and that's what is wrong in that building, Mann argues.
MAY 20 American Press columnist Jim Beam writes about the budget again here, urging kudos for the House and its efforts to try to fix the budget as opposed to passing on a flawed and messy rubber-stamped document as it usually does. The Senate already is poo-pooing the effort, but instead Senators should be trying to find a way to improve it as well, Beam argues. He also has some predictions in here from LABI and CABL.
MAY 20 Here's a link to the photo gallery from Tulane's graduation this past weekend. Dr. John and Allen Toussaint played together and received honorary degrees. The Dalai Lama was so entranced by their performance he got up from his seat and walked across the stage to stand next to them. He even participated in a second line with his own personal, saffron-colored umbrella. To the graduates, he urged them to think about creating a peaceful, hopeful life and society.
MAY 20 This Picayune story questions the rhetoric of NOLA officials who say the city, aside from having a "murder problem," is safe. The talking points generally are that the criminals are killing each other, but everything else is OK. The police chief there says that even Lafayette is more dangerous than NOLA. But crime experts interviewed here say that NOLA's numbers indicate one of two things: either people are so used to violence they don't report it, or somebody's "fudging the numbers."
MAY 20 The Advocate's Mark Ballard writes about some of the background maneuvering that took place during the development of budget alternatives in the Legislature. From Rep. Joel Robideaux being called a "tax and spend liberal" to robo-call influence, Ballard lets us in on some of the work that happens behind the scenes but usually doesn't make it into the Advocate's daily coverage of the session.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.