The situation at Acadian Middle is dire. With issues ranging from an over-aged population of students, rapidly dwindling performance scores and a staff ill-equipped to handle the demands of a high poverty student base, the school’s principal is calling for a clean slate.
Acadian Middle’s principal is Linda Nance, a veteran educator brought in this year by Lafayette Schools Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper to turn the failing school around.
According to data presented during Wednesday’s meeting, between the 2008-09 and the 2011-12 school years, Acadian Middle’s performance scores have plummeted from 85.1 to 76.2. The latter score, according to Louisiana’s accountability rating system, equals a D rating, which is just 1.2 points above what the state deems failing.
“I started here Jan. 7, and within two weeks I was very aware of issues with teachers in the classroom,” Nance told the school board during its meeting Wednesday. “The problem is we have too many teachers who don’t know how to work with students of poverty.”
That’s not to say those teachers are bad teachers, says Nance, just that Acadian Middle is a type of school that requires a certain type of teacher.
Nance says based on her extensive experience as an educator, reconstitution is the only option that will bear positive results.
Based on LPSS’ policy concerning reconstitution, a minimum of 25 percent of the school’s teachers must be retained, leaving the jobs of the remaining 75 percent up in the air. Nance estimates 50 percent of the existing faculty would be retained if the board approves reconstituting Acadian Middle.
One vocal supporter of Nance’s request was board member Tommy Angelle. Describing a recent visit to Acadian Middle, Angelle told his fellow board members: “I felt the sense of urgency. I think they need help. I like the idea of letting [Nance] choose her staff and just take the ball and run with it. And I will be the first to be critical if it doesn’t work.”
The one board member most opposed to reorganizing the near-failing school is the board member who represents Acadian Middle's district. That board member is Tehmi Chassion, who's been distracted from the real business of the board lately to lead the charge against Cooper's hiring of Thad Welch, the special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation, allegedly over his lack of a high school diploma. Chassion was successful Wednesday in garnering support from four fellow board members to pull funding from the position. Cooper, however, says Welch will remain on the job and that he'll find funding from another source.
Chassion credited his resistance to a shake-up at Acadian Middle to his experience with last year’s reconstitution of Northside High, also in his district.
Reconstitution, arguably, is among the best ways to help student achievement in a non-effective school, yet Chassion says his resistance to the idea has nothing to do with the impact it would have on the school’s students. He's more concerned about the teachers:
"I hate that reconstitution concept," he said Wednesday night. "At Northside, we had a situation. There were a lot of good teachers at Northside who came cry to me at my doorstep asking, “Am I ineffective?” Two months seems like it’s not enough time to just decide reconstitution. Why not just help those teachers ... instead of pushing them off on someone else."
It would be difficult to overstate the positive impact reconstitution has had on Northside.
Cooper, who also played a major role in sparking Northside’s reorganization, says the students cannot afford to wait. "We can’t keep spending all our time second-guessing," he said. "We need to be more supportive of these principals. I hope the board will just allow the educators to educate."
The issue is expected to come back before the board at its next meeting in two weeks.
Click here to read more on the impact of Northside's reorganization on the school's accountability rating.