Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will the Real Jefferson Parish School Board Members Please Stand Up?

Stand up and protect and serve the children and the families of Jefferson Parish, as you were sworn to do.

Have our current school board members forgotten the promises and assurances that they made to the public school system, or has it been so long ago since they came into office that the memory escapes them?

Recently, a system-wide resolution to dissolve Riverdale High School was passed by our illustrious board without a survey, feasibility study, parental input, or a projected long-range plan which would focus on any positive or detrimental implications to the school system or its affected students, teachers, and families.

On the JPPSS website:

"The Jefferson Parish Public School System is committed to the goal of providing quality education for every child in the district. Toward this end, JPPSS established partnerships with parents and with the community. It is the school system’s belief that everyone gains if schools and parents work together to support education.JPPSS also believes that student academic achievement requires that parents have an understanding of curriculum, academic achievement standards, assessments, district/school policies and procedures, and of how to monitor their children’s progress.

Given that parental involvement is one of the key components in helping students achieve academic success, JPPSS promotes parental involvement and empowerment at all levels throughout the district".

Where was the parental input and involvement in creating the following plan, which impacts so many of our children?

The plan:

Dissolve Riverdale High school. Reinvent it as a magnet high school, to be tentatively renamed "Riverdale Academy for Advanced Studies". Remove grades 8-11 from Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies. Relocate those Haynes students to the new Riverdale Academy. Approximately 600 current Riverdale students would then be dispersed to other local high schools (with the exception of any that might test into the magnet school, and possibly 11th and 12 grade students). Remove fifth grade from the magnet elementary school, Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies, and move those students to Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies, which will now serve grades 5-7.

An attempt was made by JPSB Member Ellen Kovach, District 4, in 2007 to perform a feasibility study with the intent to separate Haynes Academy into a middle and high school, eventually moving the upper grades to another school to alleviate any traffic concerns voiced by the business and residential communities nearest to the school, and to relieve any alleged overcrowding at the school. At that time, the vote by the school board to perform the study failed. Here we are, one year later, and there was no study voted upon this time by Kovach or any other school board member, just the decision to implement the plan. Period.

The entire school board voted its approval at the July 9, 2008 school board meeting, even while admitting that, once again, they did not in fact read what they were voting for. See excerpts below from the statement by one school board member:

Statement on Revised Academically Advanced Magnet School Plan By Gene Katsanis, Jefferson Parish School Board Member, District 9

"Unfortunately, I did not follow my initial instinct to abstain when voting on the ³Revised Academically Advanced Magnet School Plan². I did not read the plan at the time of the vote as I stated at the meeting. As of this writing (Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 10:34 a. m.), I still have not read it. I just found the plan 30 minutes ago and see that it is full of tables and charts that need to be studied and analyzed. I will do this as soon as possible.

We need to undo what we unwisely did. We need to vet this important issue with the parents and public before we consider a plan this important which affects so many students and so much change".

Perhaps he did not read the JPPSS website where it discusses and espouses parental involvement, either.


-- Where it concerns the desegregation order, this is not the first, nor the second time that the current Jefferson Parish School Board members have voted to approve an agenda item without first reading or otherwise researching what they were voting on. They voted blindly to approve the original desegregation order, and also the revised desegregation order (released on April 16, 2008) admittedly without reading its contents and/or any changes then made to the subsequent revised order. (And THEN the school board, unbelievably, did not even publicly vote on the substantial changes made to the final revised order released on April 24, 2008). This desegregation order affects thousands of students, and yet they couldn't take the time to skim over this document?

--At this writing, approximately 200 students (not to mention several teachers) have been transferred involuntarily or otherwise assigned in accordance with the desegregation order to Riverdale High School for the upcoming 2008-09 school year, leaving them to attend Riverdale for one year before it changes over to the magnet school, which will disrupt their education again by transferring them out to yet another school for the 2009-10 school year. This will make for 3 schools in three years for these high school students. THAT will look good on the old college applications.

--Metairie Academy will lose 5th grade to Haynes. Where are those students interested in applying to attend Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy (with serves grades 6-12)expected to attend school for ONE YEAR before applying to Pat Taylor for 6th grade? This will make for 3 schools in three years for these students also. Moreover, this will affect the decisions of many parents about whether to keep their children at the current school that they are attending for 5th grade (to stay at the school through the last grade offered), or withdraw them to attend Pat Taylor. What would you do?

--As yet, there has been no discussion about what will happen to Riverdale Academy for Advanced Studies if/when (yeah, right...) the new magnet high school is built in Kenner, on land owned by the school board, allegedly in 3 years or so. Will it then revert back to a standard high school, once again moving students from their attending high schools back to this revised attendance zone and disrupting their educational track?

In closing:The JPSB makes arbitrary, sudden decisions without parental input or projected thought or even care about the impact on their students and/or teachers. A parent's responsibility is to their child, not in remaining in the public schools to make the system better, while their child is treated as a social experiment. That's the school board's job, one in which they are failing miserably.

When the Jefferson Parish school system attempts to "lure" the private school families into the public system, they must first give them a real choice. Saying that the choice is either the district school or the "assigned" magnet school is not a choice. Saying that these children must then be shuffled around like some cruel game of musical chairs at the whim of the superintendent, the school board, and its attorneys will have parents running and screaming back to the private sector. I doubt that their private school and/or board of directors of said school will tell those parents that their children must leave to attend some other "attendance zone" school. Most parents that I know will take door number one---the real choice---the private schools, where THEY have to final choice--not the superintendent, school board, and their paid-by-the-hour attorneys, who have no interest or empathy for any of our students, only in the amount of their final paycheck or the reputation that the end result might bring to them.

The way to bring about true school reform is to give families true school choice, not some watered-down, false version of it.

Will the real Jefferson Parish school board members please stand up...for your students, teachers, and families?

Will the real Jefferson Parish school board members just stand up...and do the right thing?



Ryan Dolin said...

I am a senior at Riverdale High School and even though it doesn't really affect my academic career, they should really change their stance. Not only did they not read the plan they unanimously accepted (which I can't blame them, seeing as we elect people that do the same thing in a variety of our government positions), but also their stance simply does not make any sense.

Let’s examine their only arguments for changing Riverdale into a magnet school:

1.) School Board Member Ellen Kovach says that there is a growing demand for magnet schools.
2.) This inherently prevents “many qualified” students from gaining access to a magnet school.
3.) It’s fiscally responsible to carry out this action.
4.) Old Metairie residents have also complained about traffic.

That’s the only four arguments that the school board can present, all of which can be refuted quite easily:

1.) What demand for magnet schools? For some reason, our school board finds this incessant need to continue building up accelerated programs. They invested thousands of dollars into IBO, the Patrick Taylor Science and Technology Academy, and the current Haynes Academy. The question is, where is the demand for all this? Why don’t we request from the school board how many of our kids in our parish have applied to private universities in the past? I can estimate the number to be relatively small. Even with these supreme magnet schools, large numbers of kids are still going to be utilizing TOPS and in-state programs that can be achieved at the average high school. Now I do not see a demand for magnet schools, which they may see. But what I do see is the demand for adequate teaching across the board. I see a demand for qualified teachers. What’s more important: spending thousands of dollars for kids that could achieve well in less-expensive programs like Gifted and AP, or actually providing a decent education to the majority of the parish? Our school board needs to get its priorities in order.

2.) Exactly. That’s the point of a magnet school. Kids will be utilizing a magnet school to get a better education, but also prepare them for college. One of the biggest aspects of post-secondary education is the competitiveness. One has to apply for colleges and compete against other students for acceptance. In essence, the same thing is happening with the magnet schools. So instead, we should just accept all kids applying to a magnet school because it’s CLEARLY the most ideal system post-graduation. (Note the sarcasm)

3.) While I concede that Riverdale’s loss of students while having a pretty large capacity does show signs of fiscal irresponsibility, it is more costly to put the magnet school at Riverdale. The first thing we have to realize is that our school board has consistently been incompetent in location. They had the science and tech school in a location, which they eventually moved. This magnet school is only going to be at Riverdale for a few years, and then also moved to Kenner. The cost of a brief transition is far greater than leaving things alone. Then another transition to the other school costs even more. The money you wasted on programs at Riverdale like IBO would be at a great cost… It’s so disheartening to hear OUR school board scream fiscal responsibility when they waste money left and right. More importantly, back to my first point, it would be more fiscally responsible to worry about the kids that aren’t the cream of the crop, but those that are struggling. Poor test scores affects us in terms of federal funding. And any money we waste in unqualified and ineffective teaching (while also failing to meet federal statutes) is simply ridiculous.

4.) Oh! THE TRAFFIC!!! Oh, such a real good reason to move a school. So instead, we potentially create more traffic at the Riverdale campus, until they complain? Come on, it’s simply ridiculous. The only reason they would even consider this, is because our corrupt school board is so easily influenced by the wealthy members of Old Metairie.

And here is where I go on my rant. Ellen Kovach, the ringleader of this plot to change Riverdale, is clearly the most incompetent person on the school board. She has recently joined, and has already begun to institute some of the most ridiculous measures this parish has ever seen. She lives in Old Metairie, so I’m sure she’s one of the few complaining about traffic… She has a record concerning actions that the community disapproves of. In 2006, an overwhelming crowd protested one of her previous campaigns against the constituents of this parish.


Her plans were considered racist and one person described her as “David Duke with a dress.” She plans on running for judge within the year, leaving her to vacate her position as a school board member; just after she plans on “helping” the system. Kovach looks to advocate ethics and reform, but with a proposal like this, we can see she is clearly lying. She does not care about this school system or the students and parents affected by it. All she plans to do is use these propositions as another mark on her resume and go about her merry way wreaking havoc…

I’m done.

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