Sunday, August 17, 2008

More insight from the all seeing eyes...

Schoolyard Shuffle Angers Jeff Parents!

Mr. Broach wrote a interesting article published today in the Times-Picayune.

In the spring of 2005, Jefferson Parish public school officials pulled a fast one.

With no public notice, the School Board waived its usual rules and abruptly decided to shift one of its new magnet schools, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, from an Elmwood office building to the campus of T.H. Harris Middle School in Metairie. Board member Martin Marino touted the move as a good way to accommodate the growing enrollment at the science school and make use of extra space at Harris, which, coincidentally, is in his School Board district.

Parents had other ideas. Shut out of the decision-making, scores of them just as abruptly erected a wall of opposition. Within three weeks, the School Board backed off and, for the time being, left the science school in Elmwood.

You might think the School Board, supposedly a bunch of astute politicians, would have learned its lesson. Yet board members have been at it again in recent weeks, trying to shift classes -- even entire student bodies -- at three more East Jefferson schools. In the process, they again have unwittingly illustrated the natural growing pains of trying to improve public education and the hazards -- easily foreseeable -- of altering schools without first soliciting public opinion.

Any fundamental change is difficult. Jefferson began discovering this in 2003 when the School Board hired Diane Roussel as superintendent with a promise to improve public education in a parish where it had stagnated for years. Along the way, the creation of magnet schools has proven to be enormously complex and fraught with controversy.

But some of the growing pains are of the School Board's own making. Such as making major changes without testing the political waters first.

A reasonable case can be made for closing Riverdale High School and dispersing its dwindling enrollment among other conventional high schools on the east bank of Jefferson Parish. High school classes, and the eighth grade, for the top-achieving east bank students could then be moved to Riverdale's campus from their current home at Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies, where Old Metairie neighbors are wary of growing enrollment. Haynes would remain a magnet middle school and take on the fifth grade now housed at Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies.

But in endorsing those moves last month, the School Board failed to consult with its constituents.

Had school officials held parent and community meetings on the proposal and made some adjustments based on the input, chances are they would have won some support and spared themselves much of the current controversy. Parents like to know what the plans are for their children's education. Some might even have suggestions. Nowhere is that more apparent than with magnet schools, which have a way of engaging parents like no other public schools.

But the Jefferson School Board didn't do this, and only now is the school system starting to hold community meetings.

Roussel can't be blamed for the misstep. Her job is executive: to run the school system and, with broad direction from the School Board, try to improve it. It's the job of board members, the elected officials, to take the pulse of the public.

More growing pains are likely as this school system lurches from mediocrity to what should be excellence in one of the richest and most populous parishes in Louisiana. Some of the pain is the inevitable result of trying something new.

But some, like moving schools wholesale across town without parental input, can be easily avoided if the School Board would do its job right.

. . . . . . .

Drew Broach is the East Jefferson bureau chief. E-mail or call (504) 883-7059.

Sometimes its good to know you are not crazy. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jeff Parish School Board gathering momentum for "Reconstruction"?

I was fortunate to attend the JPSB meeting Wednesday afternoon, August 13th, 2008. It was a more pleasant experience than past meetings I attended. The meeting moved smoothly through agenda items and the board members (for the most part) made their points quickly. This allowed for parents and representatives from Riverdale High School, Haynes and Metairie Academy's the opportunity to express in the assembly their feelings and analysis of the JPSB Plans to restructure these and other schools in the parish.

It seemed that many of these parents are beginning to realize the consequences of the Dandridge consent order which itself is a consequence of segregation in Jefferson Parish. My heart goes out to these parents. I only hope this realization inspires discussion within these families about the deterioration of the culture and atmosphere in the South after Reconstruction. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

I'm sure we appreciate the superintendent encouraging input from parents through the Magnet School Survey. One would hope that this course of action would have been taken regardless of the Federal Court's oversight. I thought my responses to the survey might have a different perspective than most so I've included them below now that the deadline for submission has passed.

A curious observation before the meeting began today...did we PRAY? Hummm...those were the days.

Academically Advanced Magnet School Plan responses…


I think the superintendent and her staff are best to know how to distribute staff. I find the teachers at my school committed and concerned for the development of their children. As a teacher I know commitment weighs more than certification because it is a selfless and often thankless job. Few certificates measure a teacher’s level of commitment.

Grade Configuration:

I think the grade configuration is typical. I was in an elementary school which housed 1st through 8th grades. My high school began with 9th. There is nothing wrong with the division proposed. It however creates a greater demand for facilities to house these different divisions. I’d prefer one school for elementary (K-8) and a second for high school (9-12) typically fed by the elementary.


Communication is key, but also a common curriculum will insure that all students have the opportunity to adequately prepare for their next level of education. There are means that I shared with my principal that allow administrators and teachers to communicate with each other in real time with little effort and at very low cost over the Internet. With gas and traffic the way it is this I think is a wonderful way to build community within the school system to the benefit of all the children in the parish. Technology is scary to many but this type of transition is happening and our children need to know it exists and how to use it responsibly.


There is little comment to be made about this. I am experienced with only one principal and have been very pleased.


It is good that the children’s eligibility and accumulated service hours not be affected by this transition. I hope this applies as well to all competitions, i.e. academic games, debate, honor societies, music.

Names of Schools:

- East Bank High School
- West Bank High School

I think naming schools would be a nice competition for the students who will have to attend these schools.

Additional Comments:

Everyone is aware, though I have heard no one say emphatically, that enrollment on the Eastbank has declined for no other reason but as a result of the storm. The recovered enrollment now reflects people who were able to return, rebuild and reestablish themselves in their homes and businesses. Good timing on the part of the plaintiff in the consent order in exposing the desegregation order when the demographics in all of New Orleans now resembling the 1970s. I know the consent order is justified and the JPSB plan is warranted. I am a product of segregation. I know it is meant to be punitive so not everyone will like it. I think that under the circumstances today we have a great opportunity to advance our educational performance in Jefferson Parish, provide opportunities to some (not all) who would not have had it, and certainly become a role model for large, racially and economically diverse communities around the country. I just want these efforts to impact our children’s education in as small a measure as possible.

In order for teachers to be effective and students to be served I think it is very important to keep the class sizes at their lowest possible levels. If the proposed configuration will increase the number of sections housed at each grade level and the student/teacher ratio is maintained at 20/1 then this is in the best interest of our students. Presently, a class size over 30 is UNACCEPTABLE. I know this transition may result in disruptions, but the proposal for the 2009-2010 school year should not require any class to be above the maximum number of students allowed.

I know resources and personnel are strained, as is funding. This is always the case. Let’s make a strong effort to keep the numbers low, and if necessary, turning students away only as a last resort.

Dr. Roussel, you have a very difficult task in managing students as well as parents and guardians who have little time or inclination to participate in the adequate education of their children. This effectively makes it more difficult for those of us who know education is vital to our children’s survival and are daily engaged in their success in school. I pray you stay vigilant and leave a legacy for your successor to build upon. I pray also that my colleagues and I whose perspective may differ, will find a willing and caring heart not only for our own children’s well-being but also for the children who desire to share in the benefits of a free education in the 21st century.