Continuing academic improvement was the main focus of the St. John the Baptist Parish Public School Board’s January retreat.
In contrast to previous retreats, board members invited central office staff to attend to share critical areas relating to student performance and to better acquaint themselves with the roles of staff members. Because the board generally deals with the overall operations of the district, it also gave members the opportunity to learn about district programs and state regulations of which they may not normally be aware.
The most intense session of the two-day retreat involved the curriculum team sharing the district’s academic strategy.
“We spent half a day explaining how we are going to improve schools’ preparation for more rigorous standards so the board can understand our plans and processes at all of our schools,” Superintendent Kevin George said.
To conquer the new state standards the district is working within every level of its schools. A district support strategy has been put in place to provide observation and feedback to school leadership teams which they can then use to improve their schools’ climate and classroom learning.
The superintendent and department heads have been conducting surprise visits to schools to evaluate everything from how visitors are greeted to cleanliness, efficiency of dismissal to busses, lunch time and bookkeeping. The district’s curriculum team, meanwhile, makes targeted visits to evaluate how core subjects are being taught, use of technology, career preparation, special education and how TAP is being utilized. Follow-up meetings with school leadership address areas for improvement or what is working well.
Individually, principals are also getting one-one-one support from a central office evaluator that includes direct access to discuss concerns such as data, staffing, school culture and becoming a master instructional leader. Evaluators also review data, address issues that may occur at the school, provide recommendations to help the principal improve and offer feedback on what is being done well.
Another area of focus is improving special education. A pilot program has been put in place that includes monthly visits to assist teachers, meetings with school leaders to identify weak areas of instruction, observations and professional development and more collaboration between the school and special education staff.
Special Education Department staff has evaluated LEAP data to target specific students to assist in moving up to the next achievement level and pre-K special education teachers are getting weekly professional development to make sure special education students are getting the support they need from the beginning.
In addition, weaknesses at each school have been identified and individual intervention plans have been put in place to address them.
“We’ve gone over a detailed plan to improve every school,” George said.
School Board member Patrick Sanders described the retreat as epic and said board members returned ready to hit the ground running.
“The superintendent has committed to work even closer with the board to place funding where there are possible deficits for programs that impact student achievement. This would be in addition to the resources that he and his staff have added since our mini fall retreat in October,” Sanders said. “There has been a general recommitment of all internal stakeholders to continue to give 110 percent of human and financial resources to make the district a place of continual learning.”
District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut and her Assistant District Attorneys Keith Green and Orenthal Jasmine, who serve as general counsel for the School Board were also in attendance. Dinvaut agreed to help with programs to divert criminal activity by juveniles.
However, Sanders said the biggest challenge faced by the school district continues to be parental involvement.
“If we can attain that element of support from the parents in K - 12, it will be a win-win across St. John,” he said. “The resources are there for college readiness or career readiness. We need parents to encourage their children to come to school and commit to doing their very best.”