BACK TO SCHOOL: Raising high school graduation rates tops ‘09-’10 Iberville agenda

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter
EMPHASIZING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION...A new Early Childhood Center will go under construction this school year at Iberville Elementary school. School officials unveiled plans for the addition this week, and the School Board is expected to consider approving a bid on some $7.5 million in construction at Iberville Elementary when it meets Monday night. This is an illustration of the exterior of the center by Plaquemine architect Brad Guerin of Fusion Architecture, who designed it.

As Iberville Parish Schools open Monday, younger students will take their seats around 7:30 a.m., while high school students will report to class around 8:30 a.m. 

It is a turn-about based on new research, and Iberville Parish school officials hope will help students be fresh for their studies.

“It’s reversing and starting high school students later than elementary,” said Superintendent P. Edward Cancienne Jr.

“Little kids do better in the morning, and that’s when you want to start their reading instruction,” he said. “...[High school] kids stay up late at night, and their minds start working later in the morning.”

The time change comes at a good time for high school students from North Iberville, who, as it stands now, will travel to Plaquemine High School or the Math, Science and Arts Academy-West if they stay in the public school system.

“Kids won’t have to leave any earlier than they do now,” Dr. Cancienne said. “We want to make it as comfortable for them as possible.”

In April, the School Board 8-7 in favor of Cancienne’s recommendation to close North Iberville High School and sent 155 students in seventh to 12th grades to Plaquemine High.

Many North Iberville residents continue to challenge the decision, in part because of the two-hour-a-day bus commute over two-lane roads. A group of parents has sued to stop the closure.

District Judge Robin Free scheduled the trial in the case for Wednesday, and promised to have a decision then.

The change in school times, however, was based on research, such as John Holloway cited in an article “Giving Our Students the Time of Day” in Educational Leadership:

“Conventional wisdom holds that most school districts should set the earliest starting time for older adolescents and the latest starting time for younger children. This approach accommodates transportation limitations and the athletic and employment interests of high school students. Most school districts, however, fail to consider the biological changes of adolescence, including sleep requirements.”

A major focus for the school system this year will be interventions to help high school students succeed and stay in school.

Even before the Legislature approved a controversial new “career diploma” for students not headed to college, Cancienne and his staff have been organizing to include vocational education in the high school curriculum. A new “Career Pathways” program is on the agenda for grades nine to 12 to guide students and parents on career choices.

The career diploma legislation passed at the recent session, giving school districts little time to implement them Nineteen other school districts have asked for exemptions for this school year.

 “The career technical diploma that the state has approved will be considered a standard high school diploma,” said Janet Marionneaux, executive director of personnel, curriculum and instruction. “It will be recognized by all community and technical schools...That helps districts with graduation rates.”

Iberville’s public school graduation rate is 49.7 percent, said William Bujol, supervisor of child welfare and attendance. The school system’s goal is to cut dropout rates by 12 percent and raise graduation rates by 12 percent this year.

“Within three years, we want 80 percent of our students graduating,” Dr. Cancienne said.

Many of the school systems efforts this year are aimed at bringing students up to grade level, particularly in reading and math.

“Students who are overage and fall behind have a tendency to drop out,” said Leslie Blanchard, a new instructional facilitator at the Central Office. She said that when remediation helps older students “jump ahead and catch up with their peers, they are more likely to graduate. It does a lot for them psychologically.”

Marionneaux said the system is seeking funding for the Education Mission to prepare Louisiana Youth (EMPLOY), a dropout prevention program.

The superintendent and the executive director were particularly excited about a new software package called Ed Performance that can pinpoint students’ strengths and weaknesses on a continuing basis, allowing intervention before they fall behind.

It can also track the quality of education coming from a particular classroom, Cancienne said.

Marionneaux said the school system tried a pilot program with Ed Performance in the fifth and sixth grades, and will put it in place for grades three through 11 this month.

Local students showed marked improvements last spring in many areas on the standardized tests that are part of the state’s accountability program.

“I’m excited about building on our successes,” Dr. Cancienne said.

He said he and his staff would continue to “collaborate” with teachers and school support staff members to improve the schools.

“There is clear evidence of good collaborative work that’s going to pay dividends for students,” he said.

They also hope to bring parents into the effort.

Cancienne said he hopes to foster better Parent-Teacher Associations at the schools.

Marionneaux asked parents to notify their schools of any changes in their contact information.

The local system uses a web-based program called Connect-Ed to notify parents when there is important school news.