MSA-West, PHS to share as honors wing opens

Deidre Cruse
FIRING UP THE TROOPS...Iberville Parish Schools Chief Academic Officer Elvis J. Cavalier charts a course for the 2011-12 school year at a “Boots on the Ground” seminar for teachers at the Iberville Math, Science and Arts Academy-West on Monday at Nottoway Plantation. He met with the Plaquemine High School staff there on Tuesday, and with held a meeting between the two schools on Wednesday.

Chief Academic Officer Elvis J. Cavalier got the Iberville Math, Science and Arts Academy off to such a good start, that Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne has assigned him additionally to be principal of Plaquemine High School.

Cavalier plans to use some MSA-West staff at Plaquemine High to extend the use of teachers in hard-to-hire specialties, especially in support of the new honors wing that will open at Plaquemine High School this year.

He held a “Boots on the Ground” seminar for the staffs of the two schools earlier this week at Nottoway Plantation to set the agenda for the 2011-12 school year.

“I'm excited,” Cavalier said in an interview last week. “I love a challenge. I love to climb the hill more than sitting on a summit. I am not a summit sitter.”

Overall, Cavalier said, he hopes to reestablish the community's confidence in Plaquemine High.

“We will re-establish PHS as a high school that is as good as any and better than most,” he said, repeating the pledge he made to last month to the School Board.

Working out of a temporary office while construction continued at PHS, Cavalier assured that the building work was on schedule and the school – including its new honors and administrative wings – would be ready to open for classes on Friday, August 12. A state-of-the-art welding facility is expected to be finished around Thanksgiving.

“There are choices in this environment,” Dr. Cancienne said. “Every child will be on a plan that will lead to secondary education, university prep, as well as a polytechnic environment.”

Plaquemine High expects an enrollment of 824 students this fall, with 180 students with grade point averages of 2.5 or higher enrolled in the honors classes, said Sondia Funchess, who is heading the program.

“Hopefully, they can maintain [that average] and move up,” Funchess said. “This is for kids who want to excel academically and go on to a four-year college.”

The new honors wing includes an outstanding chemistry laboratory and a Mac computer lab, which Funchess expects students will use daily.

MSA-West teachers of computer science, math, chemistry, physical science, Spanish and music will also teach at PHS this year.

“I know these test scores are going to soar this year,” Funchess said. “...I expect when we walk in to be wowed by the teachers' performance.”

Welding teacher Lee Knight helped to design the new welding shop after attending a state-of-the-art training program in Atlanta “so we would have the latest and greatest.”

Knight already is proud of the program he has headed for two years. Last year, he took 13 of his students to a test lab and 11 passed a test to become certified welders.

“They are ready for the job,” Cavalier said.

“No other high school does it,” Knight said. “It's putting your money where your mouth is.”

This year, he will teach 40 students, who will attend class for two hours a day with extensive individual instruction.

“It's one of the few program that is self-sustaining,” Cavalier said.

Knight said students do arts and crafts projects and build items such as barbecue pits – and, last year, even a motorized bike.

The welding program is being coordinated with the Louisiana Technical College, for which a new facility will be built next door to the high school. The tech college will use the welding facility for summer and night classes from the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Next week, check the POST/SOUTH's Back to School issue for further news on the start of the 2011-12 school year