Iberville Parish School Board members unanimously adopted a plan to implement major changes to Iberville Elementary, East Iberville and White Castle High schools.

In what School Board Superintendent Dr. Arthur Joffrion is calling a “disruptive innovation”, the proposed redesign involves transforming Iberville Elementary into a Montessori school and implementing the state’s Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) at East Iberville and White Castle High.

Joffrion addressed board members with his concerns for the parish schools and their “C” ratings from the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE).  According to a 2015-16 report from the LDE, Iberville Parish has continuously been rated a “C” district.

“You (members) challenged me that not only our academies flourished, but that we had quality programs that parents would be proud to send their children to,” Joffrion said.  “We do have some pockets of excellence in some data areas and some grade levels and in some content areas.  However, when you look across the board there is a huge concern.”

According to a graph presented to board members, only around 20 to 30 percent of students in Iberville Elementary were deemed proficient in testing.  Nearly 70 percent of the school’s students were categorized as “basic or below” on state tests, according to the LDE report.

Some of the upcoming proposed changes include replacing leadership at the three parish schools and a portion of the staff on each campus before the start of the 2017-18 school year.

The redesign will implement new leaders and staff at the schools and include performance-based incentives for the teachers, assistant principals and principals at the three locations.  According to Joffrion, the school will spend a total of $1.3 million to implement the Montessori model at Iberville Elementary.  Some of the funding will also be allocated toward building upgrades at Iberville Elementary and a public relation campaign advertising the new program.

The philosophy of the Montessori program, according to Joffrion’s presentation, ensures that students are participating in an environment that is physically and psychologically supportive, and allows children to undertake class at their own speed and build trust and respect with each other and their teachers.

“At very young ages we are giving students the opportunity to own their learning and to own and to respect themselves and accomplish tasks,” Joffrion added.  “This moves away from rote memorization and moves to a deeper understanding of the content.”

Necessary components of the Montessori method include: multi-age grouping, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activities.

“Obviously there’s going to be a lot of training involved,” Chief Academic Officer Jeff Powell said to the board members. “And it will start this summer with a ten-week online training to help the teachers understand what starting a classroom is going to look like.”

With the total redesign, the board also approved to implement the TAP program at both White Castle and East Iberville schools.  This program is designed to boost teacher effectiveness through career advancement opportunities, ongoing applied professional growth, performance-based compensation and instructionally focused evaluations, according to the presentation.  The TAP program will also add four mentor teachers to East Iberville and two to White Castle High.

The district will spend about $80,000 on TAP training for parish teachers and support staff in addition to the performance-based pay incentive for teachers.

Several parents and teacher advocates verbalized their concerns to the board before members voted, however.  Some claimed the process to be unfair and would be too costly for the school.

“I have a problem with teachers having to reapply for jobs that they have done or had for over twenty years,” Ashley Jenkins, mother of three Iberville Elementary students, said.  “That’s not fair.”

Mona Icamina, representative from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, warned board members with examples of some schools in Tangipahoa Parish that have implemented the Montessori model and have not lived up to expectations.  According to Icamina, one Tangipahoa Montessori school recently received an “F” rating.

“This actually affects, even if you’re only doing three, it actually affects the other six schools,” Icamina said.  “I think this program that y’all are proposing is an aggressive, really good start.  Except I think you’re starting with your whole body in the water instead of just a toe at a time.

“I think you’re on the right track, but I think it’s too fast.”

After public comment closed, several board members lauded Joffrion and his team for their efforts and believe this change is money well spent for the school district.

“Some people don’t like it, but what do we do?” asked member Darlene Ourso.  “Do we do nothing?  Or do we try something different?  What kid has time to wait?

“Is it scary? Yes.  It’s like jumping into the water without a life jacket, but we have to do something to try and move our kids forward.”

“Two-thousand dollars per child is well spent towards a program that has proven results,” member Chris Daigle added.

Joffrion added that results for the Iberville Parish redesign will be significantly shown between two to three years if the program is being implemented effectively.

The school district plans to name the principals of the redesign schools on April 24, and will conduct teacher interviews of current staff at the schools from May 8 through 11.

On May 12, current staff members at the redesign schools will be notified of the district’s decisions, and interviews for all vacant teaching positions will be held from May 15-24.