The message Tuesday at Northside High School was clear: The people support Lafayette Schools Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper’s turnaround plan and think it’s time for the school board to follow suit. Embraced by most in attendance, that message, unfortunately, fell on some deaf ears.

Tuesday’s meeting (see video excerpt below) was called by Melinda Voorhies, a veteran educator brought out of retirement last year by Cooper to take the helm as principal of the troubled Northside High, which at the time was the poorest performing school in the district.

Addressing a crowd of more than 50 principals and community leaders who gathered inside Northside’s cafeteria Tuesday, Voorhies, a former basketball coach, compared the challenges of turning around a troubled school system to taking over a struggling athletic program. Her main point was that positive change doesn’t happen overnight.

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  Northside High Principal Melinda Voorhies

Cooper’s plan is centered on two concepts: All students, regardless of their background, have the capacity for educational success, and principals must have the authority to manage their campuses as they see fit.

“I’m in full support of Dr. Cooper’s turnaround plan because it gives me the latitude to do what I need to do for this campus and these kids,” said Voorhies. “I believe we’re headed in the right direction, but we need support from all of you. I think the [school] board needs to deal with setting policy, and let Dr. Cooper deal with personnel and education.”

Voorhies’ message comes at a vital time, and with the future of the school system stuck at a proverbial crossroads — the result of resistance from several school board members to Cooper’s administration — members of the community also took the opportunity Tuesday to echo the Northside principal’s plea.

Carencro High Principal Ken Roebuck went to bat for the superintendent, further stressing the need for the school board to stop fighting Cooper’s plan and help move the school system forward.

Referencing the board and Cooper’s administration, Roebuck said, “I would love to see the two married together. There’s times when we’ll disagree, but [cooperation] is vital for us to move forward.”

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 Greg Davis

Cajundome Director Greg Davis, a Northside alum who almost won a seat on the board during the last election cycle, said the fact Lafayette Parish has 17 schools with a D or F rating is just unacceptable. He too said the time is now for the board to get on board with the turnaround, stop the grandstanding over non-issues and get to the real problems facing the district.

That message was repeated again and again, from community leaders like Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rob Guidry (who after the meeting issued a letter further supporting Cooper), Pat Williams of the Lafayette Fire Department (another Northside alum), businessman/philanthropist Nick Pugh of the Pugh Family Foundation, Margaret Trahan of United Way of Acadiana, Jan Swift of the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation and Gary McGoffin of the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council.

Yet the optimism of those speaking Tuesday was not shared by all, at least not by two of the three school board members in attendance.

Those board members represent the faction of the board most in need of hearing Tuesday’s message and included Greg Awbrey, Tehmi Chassion and Mark Allen Babineaux. Though all three opted against sharing their thoughts publicly, remaining in the background during the open discussion, The IND, following the meeting’s end, approached Awbrey and Babineaux (Chassion had since left the building).

When asked if they were ready to cross the line of resistance to just about every initiative put forth by Cooper, Awbrey irately replied, “I refuse to break state law” — an allusion to the brouhaha he and Chassion have been raising over the superintendent’s hire of Thad Welch.

A more level-headed Babineaux responded in a calm manner, crediting his recalcitrance to a belief that the turnaround plan is a failure.

Despite the repeated message that a turnaround takes time — Cooper has only been on board a little more than a year — and proof that Northside (the only school reconstituted thus far) has already shown positive results with its rising state accountability rating, Babineaux maintained his stance: "The turnaround plan is not having the intended effect.”

But hey, the next school board election is only 19 months away.

Click here for more on the Thad Welch issue, and here for an example of why the board needs to stick with policy and let the educators educate.

 

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