The official first day of school for students will be Wednesday. School personnel, however, return Monday for two days of in-service during which they will receive updates and additional training on the changes, including the launch of new district and state initiatives.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and Education Superintendent John White have utilized state legislation and the U.S. Department of Education approved an Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver to establish the Louisiana Believes plan of educational reforms in a wide-range of areas.
To prepare for this massive transition, St. Mary Parish district personnel have labored to construct a solid approach to ensure a smooth changeover.
St. Mary students posted measurable academic gains in 2012 with iLEAP results in grades three, five, six and seven, eliciting scores that either met or exceeded state averages in 14 of 16 tested areas. Reading subscores revealed ratings of basic or above proficiency levels for 71 percent of students tested. Such data is particularly encouraging as it indicates student abilities to fluently read and comprehend text on grade level, a skill necessary for all content areas.
LEAP exams required for promotion among 4th- and 8th-graders revealed growth in seven of eight core areas, with 87 percent of fourth grade students promoted as a result of initial testing. This proficiency percentage is significantly above the state’s 2012 average of 82 percent. Middle school LEAP test results reached an all-time high as 76 percent of district eighth graders met promotional standards, above the state’s rate of 75 percent.
High school students faced an interim testing phase as students moved from the customary GEE testing format to specified End-of-Course testing for graduation. GEE results showed a consistent 86 percent passing rate in science with a 6 percent growth in social studies as 88 percent of juniors passed in 2012.
End-of-course reports issued in May conveyed an 83 percent proficiency rating in algebra, 85 percent in geometry, 89 percent in biology and 90 percent in English 2. Eighth grade students enrolled in Algebra 1 also accomplished high levels of proficiency as 98 percent posted scores at the proficiency level with 46 percent achieving an excellent rating.
In total, district students continue to experience progressive performance gains leading to declines in the number assigned to summer remediation. The district anticipates additional proficiency gains with the release of summer retesting data.
Score reporting will shift considerably in the 2012-13 school term as the point system for school performance ratings is adjusted to allot points only for students who score at a level of basic or above. In previous years, schools were awarded credit for students scoring at the approaching basic level, a prospect eliminated as part of the state’s ESEA waiver acceptance. Further, points assigned to schools for EOC tests will reflect scores of only good and excellent. It is conceivable that school performance ratings will reflect the impact of the change when scores are released next school year.
School and district staffs have spent the summer attending state-sponsored workshops and viewing webinars to fully prepare for the return of students and teachers.
The focal shift in classroom instruction concerns the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards to be fully implemented in 2013-14. Instructional personnel have revised and rewritten instructional calendars, designed diagnostic assessments and organized numerous professional development opportunities to assist teachers in the transition. Implementation strategies have been in place since the state first approved the Common Core State Standards. Proactive measures included a host of workshops, trainings and concentrated research on the standards, fundamental shifts in teaching and strategies needed to facilitate the transition.
Teachers in kindergarten and first grade have attended training throughout the summer as K-1 Common Core curriculums in math and ELA will be the first to be fully implemented. In addition, junior high English and reading courses will merge to become a 100-minute block known as Reading and English Language Arts (RELA) to foster fluid integration of literacy skills. High school guidance counselors and school leaders have revised and adapted course schedules in order to incorporate ACT prep and industrial-based certification courses while building pre-Advanced Placement and AP courses in an effort to expand rigor and post-secondary readiness.
The district’s capacity to educate all students expands with the launch of the St. Mary Parish Virtual Educational Program designed to benefit the district’s home-schooled students under its current form. The virtual program will enable students traditionally home-schooled to take advantage of virtual classes offering 24-hour access. Such settings are typically reliant upon parents to instruct students working on varying academic levels and subjects. The district virtual program will provide parents with the expertise of a highly-trained instructor while maintaining onsite assistance from parents.
The changes in staff observation and evaluation include adoption of a new district personnel evaluation plan to comply with the revised BESE Bulletin 130. School leaders and teachers now will be evaluated based on growth in student learning and a qualitative assessment of performance. The combination of these two equal components will result in a composite score used to distinguish levels of effectiveness as either highly effective, effective: proficient, effective: emerging or ineffective. District supervisory staff and school leaders expected to utilize the new evaluation instruments recently attended two intense days of state training hosted by St. Mary Parish at Morgan City High School’s multi-purpose building. Implementation of the new plan also included the development of several new job descriptions and revised employment contracts.
School leadership is critical to student success. The gains St. Mary has achieved could not have been possible without the fundamental guidance and influence of our school leaders. Therefore, the state’s recognition of Niki Fryou, principal of Hattie Watts Elementary in Patterson, as Louisiana’s Elementary Principal of the Year was met with extreme pride and elation for such a well-deserved accolade.
The district’s strong belief in its leaders was further apparent through its sponsorship of the annual professional development session known as Admini-tech. The day-long workshop provided principals and assistant principals with iPads and specialized apps formatted to facilitate application of the shifts in Louisiana education. This mobile technology device equips school leaders with the ability to access up-to-date student information, observation forms and Common Core State Standards as they move about school facilities.
Minor shifts in administration resulted in the following leadership changes throughout the parish: Donald Sanders, Raintree Elementary, assistant principal; Shannon Hoffpauir, Hattie Watts Elementary, assistant principal; Debbie Tompkins, Berwick Elementary acting principal; and Steve Russo, instructional supervisor.
During the recent budget session, the needs and safety of students again were prioritized as the board voted to renew its annual allotment for school supplies and science materials. For the past five years, parents have received additional financial support through the board’s allocation of $22.50 per student to each school for supplies, fees and science materials. This annual disbursement defrays a portion of the typical back-to-school expenses while ensuring that all students have needed materials on the first day of school.
The district cautions parents regarding the importance of opening day attendance as students will be marked absent and miss important information if they are not present Wednesday.
According to Louisiana policy, elementary and junior high students are allowed only 11 absences during the school year. High school students must be present 94 percent of the required instructional time to receive Carnegie credit; thus students in grades 9-12 are allowed only six absences per semester. Students also are expected to arrive on the first day of school in full uniform. Uniform guidelines may be found on the parish website at www.stmary.k12.la.us. Most importantly, for overall academic success, it is crucial that students arrive on time, in proper uniform, and ready to learn on their first day of school.
Documented proof of up-to-date immunizations is mandated by state law. Immunizations required of students entering Pre-K, kindergarten, day care and Head Start programs include the following: two doses for MMR, three doses for HBV, two doses for varicella, four doses for Hib, and boosters for both DTaP and Polio. State law also requires that any student who is age 11 in any grade, or as a condition of entry into sixth grade, must provide evidence of current immunization against meningococcal disease (MCV-4) along with any other age-appropriate vaccine. Immunizations may be obtained from local health care providers or at the St. Mary Parish Public Health Unit in Morgan City.
Immunizations as well as health services such as sports physicals, patient education, preventative care and health counseling are also provided at the West St. Mary High School-Based Health Center, a satellite clinic of Teche Action Clinic. Services offered at West St. Mary’s Health Center also are available for students parish-wide.
The district’s ongoing emphasis in maintaining a safe and secure environment also resulted in the board’s approval of funding to supply onboard cameras in the remaining regular education buses not yet equipped with this technology. In addition, St. Mary Parish has purchased a school bus for special services students to expand its ability to safely provide travel for children with exceptional needs.
District parents are further reminded that all students receive the St. Mary Parish Newsletter on the first day of school, which outlines important school policies and procedures. Parents and guardians are strongly encouraged to read the newsletter carefully and save it for future reference. Local newspapers also publish the district’s bus transportation routes at the start of school. Bus routes additionally can be found on the Parents/Students page of the parish website.
School lunch prices for the 2012-13 school year will reflect an increase due to Section 205 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that mandates a gradual increase per year until the average paid lunch price equals the difference between the federal reimbursement received for free and paid meals. Therefore, lunch costs for students in grades Pre K-5 will be $1.45, and students in grades 6-12 will pay $1.70. All breakfast prices will remain at the current level of 75 cents.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard closed by saying, the upcoming 2012-13 school year will require a steady calculated focus on students. Our academic motto of Success in Motion acknowledges the challenges anticipated by the massive educational shifts mandated by the state. The commitment from the district is resolute: a vision of academic achievement for all students utilizing learning environments that foster academic success.